IPCC report: more nuclear power is needed to meet the Paris agreement

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According to a United Nations report released on 8 October, a sharp increase in nuclear energy production is needed to keeping global warming below 1.5°C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) special report "Global warming of 1.5°C" was commissioned by governments at the Paris climate talks in 2015. This valuable study aims to guide the COP24 summit in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018.

The signing of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 aimed to limit the global warming of terrestrial temperatures to 2°C by 2100 – and possibly even to 1.5°C. It is against this ambitious goal that the IPCC has just published a new report which looks at what needs to be done in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century.

The report clearly shows that we urgently need to act now, with IPCC experts suggesting that temperatures may already rise to 1.5°C by between 2030 and 2052. The challenge therefore is to limit this increase and even reverse it in order to prevent an even greater increase in global temperatures by 2100.

According to Panmao Zhai, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I, " One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes ".

The IPCC has undertaken two different analysis. The first is the formulation of four scenarios which aim to limit the overall rise in temperatures to 1.5°C by 2100. These scenarios can be found in the “Summary for Policymakers”. The second analysis, found in the Global Report (Chapter 2), is based on a review of the 85 scientific scenarios identified by the IPCC which achieve this goal.

All IPCC scenarios require more nuclear.

The four scenarios (P1-P4) included in the Summary for Policymakers point to different societal approaches. The P3 scenario is based on the continuation of technological and societal developments, in particular.

The share of nuclear energy increases in all four scenarios compared to 2010 - by 59-106 % by 2030, by 98-501 % by 2050. The P3 scenario includes the most notable increase (+ 501 %) in nuclear production by 2050. This shows that, if the current trend continues, a six-fold increase in global nuclear capabilities is essential if we want to achieve our climate goals.

Finally, it should be noted that the four IPCC scenarios involve negative emissions as of 2050. 

Analysis of the scientific scenarios

Under Chapter 2 of this report, the IPCC studied 85 scenarios which aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2100. The median output of nuclear energy more than doubles between 2020 and 2050 (from 10.84 to 22.64 EJ) under these scenarios. Its share in the overall electricity mix remains significant at around 9 % in 2050.

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Based on this analysis, the IPCC indicates that "There are large differences in nuclear power between models and across pathways. One of the reasons for this variation is that the future deployment of nuclear can be constrained by societal preferences assumed in narratives underlying the pathways."

IPCC references to nuclear

Under Chapter 4 of the report, the IPCC indicates that "In the 1960s and 1970s, France implemented a programme to rapidly get 80 % of its power from nuclear in about 25 years, but the current time-lag between the decision date and the commissioning of plants is observed to be 10-19 years".

The report also states that the current rate of deployment of nuclear energy "is constrained by social acceptability in many countries" related to concerns about accident risks and the management of radioactive waste.

"Though comparative risk assessment shows health risks are low per unit of electricity production, and land requirement is lower than that of other power sources, the political processes triggered by societal concerns depend on the country-specific means of managing the political debates around technological choices and their environmental impacts" adds the IPCC report.