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Nukes at the climate talks: COP6

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(December 1, 2000) From 13 to 25 November the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP6) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in The Hague, the Netherlands (see WISE News Communique 538). The conference was meant to make progress on the setting up of the so-called flexible mechanisms, designed to allow industrialized countries to realize part of their CO2 emission reduction targets abroad. One of the issues at stake was whether or not nuclear energy would be allowed into the flexible mechanisms such as the Clean Developing Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI).

(539.5221) WISE Amsterdam - After two weeks of negotiations, the climate conference ended without agreement on a final text. Further negotiations will resume in about six months in Bonn, Germany, where the UNFCC has its seat. The collapse of the talks is highly disappointing as it seems that the delegates of over 180 governments do not seem to have realized how this was maybe the last chance to ensure ratification of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. When talks resume in Bonn, one of the parties whose ratification of the Protocol is most important in order for it to enter into force, i.e. the United States, might very well be led by George W. Bush who has never hesitated to express his categorical refusal to ratify Kyoto.

Despite the disappointing outcome of COP6, the two weeks during which the conference took place have been marked by interesting changes in the positions taken by some delegations as well as by exciting actions in the streets of The Hague. In the night preceding the opening session of the conference, anti-nuclear activists flyposted "Don't Nuke the Climate" posters throughout the city.

On the first day of the conference, US Vice-President Gore affirmed his opposition to nuclear power as a remedy to climate change. "I have disagreed with those who would classify nuclear energy as clean or renewable", Gore said in a letter to Washington D.C. based Nuclear Information and Resource Service. As a result, journalists asked the US delegation about their own position, upon which the delegation declared through David Sandalow that they were "open to discussion on this issue". This surprising shift in the US position was followed by EU Commissioner Wallström for Environmental Affairs affirming once more her opposition to nuclear as a viable solution to reducing greenhouse gases (GHG).

Monday 13 November was also designated the No Nukes Day for activists. In the early morning, German activists from Robin Wood tried to put up a model of a nuclear plant in front of the conference center, and later that day about 150 protestors, many of which were dressed in the famous white radiation suits, marched from the city center towards the conference center, requesting the conference not to nuke the climate. Accounts of these and the many other actions that took place during the climate talks are available at the Independent Media Center: (including pictures, radio reports and video).

The nuclear lobby ensured its presence in The Hague as well, including a stand inside the conference center promoting nukes as "part of the solution", and a presentation at the Climate Tech exhibition next to the conference center by the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co. (SKB) on a deep repository for spent nuclear fuel. The first week of the conference also saw workshops inside the conference center. The European Nuclear Society in collaboration with the Young Generation Network hosted a workshop entitled "Nuclear and sustainability - a young perspective". There were also workshops by the World Council of Nuclear Workers on "Flexible mechanisms: an opportunity for sustainable development" and the American Nuclear Society on "A natural choice for the CDM".

On Monday 21 November, the COP6 Plenary heard statements of UN bodies. On this occasion, the head of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer stated that nuclear "should not be included in any type of agreement". Although UNEP is not an official party to the talks, it could play an important role in how projects are carried out. One of UNEPs present activities consists of funding clean energy projects in developing countries. The same session heard David Waller of the IAEA urging the Parties to consider nuclear energy in the context of climate change, stating that the climate conference was not the appropriate forum to discuss concerns about safety and possible proliferation of weapons. Mr. Waller furthermore argued that the proposals tabled to exclude nuclear from the CDM, JI and/or emission trading "cannot be based on climate concerns; nuclear is undeniably benign." During COP6 the IAEA also presented a report entitled "Nuclear power for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation under the Kyoto Protocol: The Clean Development Mechanism", featuring case studies from China, India, Vietnam and Pakistan. The side-event launching the report was mainly attended by anti-nuclear environmentalists, listening to the Asian speakers that were pointing out how they desperately need the CDM in order to generate new nuclear capacity - without CDM support it would be far too expensive.

At the Climate Justice (counter) summit, a workshop organized by WISE Amsterdam and others informed delegates, lobbyists and the public about recent successes of the anti-nuclear movement, with speakers from Akkuyu (Turkey), Austria and Taiwan. Another workshop offered scenarios for meeting emission reduction targets without nuclear and featured speakers from Finland, the US and Russia. Accounts of these workshops will be shortly available on the WISE Amsterdam web site.

During the High Level Informal Discussions of the second week, Honduras, Saudi Arabia and Hungary argued against inclusion of nuclear power in the CDM. They where later joined in this by New Zealand, Costa Rica, Greece and Tuvalu. Australia and Japan said it was for individual developing countries to decide. At this point of the negotiations, Australia and Japan, together with Canada, were the last hindrances to a nuclear free Kyoto Protocol.

On Wednesday 22 November, an anti-nuclear "Walk of Shame", meant to march to the embassies of pro-nuclear countries in order to present them their well-earned "Award of Shame" for promoting nuclear as a tool to combat climate change, was prohibited by the police on obscure grounds. The protest was called for by WISE Amsterdam, NIRS, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Save the Planet!, Sierra Student Coalition and US Public Interest Research Groups (USPIRG). Despite police objections a large part of the protestors decided to pursue their right to protest and start the march. The result was a mass arrest as 91 people were apprehended for not obeying to a police order. They were all issued a summons and will have to appear in court in January 2001.

Towards the end of the second week of the negotiations, the US retracted its earlier flexibility regarding nuclear and they were now pleading for it to be included in the flexible mechanisms. In this, they were strongly supported by China - a potential host country for CDM projects.

On Thursday 23 November Chairman Pronk issued a proposal for a final text, including a statement that industrialized countries should refrain from using nuclear in CDM projects. The text did not mention anything about nuclear and JI. But as the conference ended without agreement on a final text, the question whether or not nuclear should be eligible for the flexible mechanisms will arise again when talks resume in Bonn.


Contact: WISE Amsterdam