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IAEA Chief at COP27: Nuclear is Part of Climate Crisis Solution


IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi opens the nuclear pavilion at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. (Photo: A. Evrensel/IAEA)

Nuclear science and technology are part of the solution to both mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change impacts. This was the message from IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at this year’s United Nations climate change conference, COP27.

Attending COP27 on Wednesday and Thursday, Mr Grossi opened for the first time a nuclear pavilion led by the IAEA in cooperation with the nuclear community took part in COP27 events and met with climate leaders and decisions makers to discuss ways in which nuclear could play a role in helping to solve the global climate problem. This year the IAEA and its partners are hosting more than 40 events at the pavilion, all of which are being livestreamed.

“We all know that the challenges posed by climate change are very, very difficult,” Mr Grossi said. “This is why nuclear is here, because nuclear has a place at the table, because nuclear is part of the solution towards a decarbonized energy mix in the world.” He explained that the IAEA is working together with international partners to show the possibilities of nuclear science and technology and how it and the IAEA will be part of the climate solution.

Mr Grossi’s presence at the event in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, is the third time that an IAEA Director General has taken part in a COP — the other two being COP25 in Madrid and COP26 in Glasgow, both also attended by Mr Grossi. The growing participation of the IAEA and the nuclear community reflects of changing attitudes to nuclear energy as the climate crisis worsens. Over the past five decades nuclear energy has avoided the release of more than 70 gigatons of carbon dioxide, and today globally, more than 400 reactors produce about a quarter of the world’s low-carbon energy.

We all know that the challenges posed by climate change are very, very difficult. This is why nuclear is here, because nuclear has a place at the table, because nuclear is part of the solution towards a decarbonized energy mix in the world.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, IAEA Director General

Nuclear’s comeback

At the opening of the nuclear pavilion, Mr Grossi announced a new IAEA Atoms for Net Zero Initiative. “Increasingly states with little to no nuclear experience approach us for guidance on meeting their climate goals with nuclear energy, this new initiative is aimed at supporting them and ensuring no one is left behind in climate solutions,” he said.

The Director General took part in numerous events at the conference, including leading a panel on Affordability, Resilience and Security of Energy Supply. There, Mr Grossi shared the stage with International Energy Agency (IEA) Executive Secretary Fatih Birol, who said that, “Nuclear power is making a comeback—and in a strong fashion.”

Mr Birol has in the past expressed that in addressing the climate crisis, nuclear power can play a role in the countries where it is accepted to address both energy security and climate. In June, the IEA released a report identifying the potential policy, regulatory and market changes that could create new investment opportunities for nuclear, and explored the role of new technologies and their potential development and deployment. 

At COP27, Mr Grossi engaged with young nuclear activists, saying he was inspired by their efforts to change skeptics’ minds with science and facts. On Thursday — the COP’s Youth and Future Generations Day — Mr Grossi joined a panel of young professionals in the nuclear field, to hear their thoughts and take their advice on avenues to pursue more inclusive climate action.

“The IAEA works with the young generation, works with a new generation of scientists and technologies so that they have the opportunities to work together to face these problems, to provide the necessary solutions,” Mr Grossi said.

As part of United Nations Climate Change’s official programme, Mr Grossi took part in the event ‘Interplay of low carbon technologies for resilient net zero energy systems’, where he joined the heads of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). All three emphasized that decarbonizing energy systems to achieve net-zero carbon emission targets will require utilizing all low-carbon technologies, including nuclear energy.

UNECE is supporting policy makers in making informed energy decisions to achieve climate goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a new Carbon Neutrality Toolkit, said UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova. “Given the enormous challenges faced by our society to avoid a climate disaster and the urgency and scale of the challenge, we need the full deployment of all reliable and carbon-free sources of energy," added UNIDO Director General Gerd Müller.

UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and UNIDO Director-General Gerd Müller at the UNFCCC event 'Interplay of low carbon technologies for resilient net zero energy systems'. (Photo: IAEA)

Engaging decision makers

The United Nations conference attracts governmental leaders from both the energy and the environment arenas. Mr Grossi met with China’s Special Envoy Xie Zhenhua and Vice Minister of Ecology and Environment Zhao Yingmin, to discuss small modular reactors, nuclear safety and waste solutions, and nuclear’s role in addressing climate change. China is a major producer of nuclear energy with 55 nuclear power reactors in operation and another 18 under construction.

Mr Grossi also met with Ghana’s Minister of Energy Matthew Opoku Prempeh to discuss IAEA support to the country as it considers nuclear power, and UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Grant Shapps on the use of nuclear technologies and science in climate adaptation. With Cuba’s Minister of Science, Technology and Environment Elba Rosa Pérez Montoya, Mr Grossi agreed to closer cooperation in addressing cancer care access in the country and tackling marine plastic pollution.

Next year’s COP will be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Mr Grossi met with the country’s Director General for the conference, Majid Al Suwaidi. He said he looked forward to working more closely with the UAE in showing the importance of nuclear science and applications is addressing climate change. The UAE is the first Arab country with an operating nuclear power plant.

Mr Grossi held meetings with United Nations organization heads, including World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas with whom he discussed climate adaptation and cooperation on energy infrastructure vulnerable to extreme weather events, and UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova to exchange on nuclear energy’s role in achieving net-zero carbon emissions targets. He also met with European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) President Odile Renaud-Basso to discuss energy policy, energy decarbonization and joint activities on Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, including Chornobyl where the IAEA and EBRD are working with the country’s authorities towards safe and cost-effective solutions to decommission the nuclear power plant and manage radioactive waste in the Exclusion Zone.

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