Table of Contents
The Energy Challenge
Nuclear Power Facts
Nuclear Power Advantages
The Salient Points
Annex I: The DECADES Project
Annex II: Nuclear Power Case Studies
Agenda 21 and Energy
Achieving sustainable development
In June 1997, a special session of the United Nations General Assembly examined progress in achieving sustainable development - five years to the month after some 180 countries at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro adopted Agenda 21 calling for global collaboration that would:
"...halt and reverse the negative impact of human behaviour on the physical environment and promote environmentally sustainable economic development in all countries."
In dealing with energy, the Agenda 21 message (Box 1) was unambiguous: "energy is essential to economic and social development and improved quality of life", but the current global pattern of energy supply and use is not sustainable. Environmentally sound energy approaches are necessary "to control atmospheric emissions of greenhouse and other gases and substances."
At the June special session of the General Assembly, the strong linkage between sustainable development goals and environmentally sound energy supplies was underlined by heads of States and governments. Energy has played and will continue to play a principal role in promoting economic growth and improved human well-being. But, balancing the energy requirements to ensure further social and economic progress with environmental requirements will be no small challenge.
The significance of today's energy challenge led the world's seven leading economic countries and the Russian Federation at their July 1997 Denver Summit to call for a ministerial meeting on energy issues in early 1998 in Moscow, with a report of its results to be available for their mid-year Summit. To advance the work at the global level, the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development will focus on energy issues at its ninth session in the year 2001. Preparations for that session will be initiated in 1999 through an intergovernmental group of experts on energy and sustainable development.
Rising energy consumption
The substantial increase in global energy consumption in the coming decades will be driven principally by the developing world. Today's developing countries, with some three quarters of the world's inhabitants, consume only one fourth of global energy. Current annual per capita energy consumption differs markedly by country and region [Fig.: Regional Energy Consumption (1995)]. Canada, in the high energy use region of North America, has a per capita consumption close to 8 tonnes of oil equivalent (toe), which is eight times greater than Brazil, where consumption is fifteen times more than in the United Republic of Tanzania or in Bangladesh.
Strong economic growth in many developing countries is already leading to sharp increases in per capita energy consumption. Consumption will continue to rise, driven also by the projected two-fold expansion in world population during the 21st century that will occur overwhelmingly in the developing regions. Although progress is evident in restraining global population growth, currently at 80 million per year, the medium projection from the United Nations World Population Prospects: 1996 Revision [Fig.: World Population Projections] forecasts a 50% increase by the middle of the next century, with India probably exceeding China's projected more than 1.5 billion population, and populations greater than 250 million inhabiting Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan. Half of the world's people now live in intensive energy consuming urban areas and this percentage will increase as urbanization in some regions expands to include 80% of the population.
A 1995 study carried out by the World Energy Council (WEC) - a leading non-governmental voice in energy matters - and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) considered three global energy scenarios for the next century: a high, middle and ecologically driven low economic growth scenario [Fig.: Global Energy Scenarios]. The study projects by mid-century a range of energy demand increase from some 50% for the low economic growth case to more than 250% for the high growth case, with the latter showing a 50% increase before 2020.
The United States Department of Energy (DOE) in its recently released International Energy Outlook 1997 projects a 54% increase in global energy demand as early as 2015 - less than 18 years from now - some half of this being due to rising demand in the newly emerging Asian economies, including China and India. It warns that if the transport sector demand in China follows that seen in Thailand and the Republic of Korea, the projected energy demand could be dramatically underestimated.