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With Just 100 Days Before Climate Conference, IAEA Highlights Nuclear’s Contribution to Mitigation and Adaptation


With less than 100 days until the COP26 global climate summit, the IAEA is finalizing its preparations for the event. During this conference, to be held from 31 October to 12 November in Glasgow, UK, the IAEA will showcase how nuclear technologies contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and also to addressing the consequences of climate change.

Nuclear power contributes to tackling climate change, for example, by providing 10% of the world’s electricity, which is close to a third of global low carbon electricity. Nuclear techniques also help cope with the consequences of climate change, and analytical tools using isotopic techniques improve our understanding of this phenomenon, driving policy change.

COP26, which stands for the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is preceded by the Pre-COP, a more informal meeting on a ministerial level to discuss and exchange views and offer political guidance for subsequent negotiations. In 2015, at COP’s 21st meeting, 196 UNFCCC parties adopted the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferable to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve these goals, countries need to reach their peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and become climate-neutral by reaching zero net greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.

Nuclear power for clean energy

Nuclear energy has a key role to play in the production of low carbon electricity. Nuclear power has avoided the equivalent of around 70 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over the last half century. It provides the bulk of clean energy in several countries. Nuclear power can help to replace coal as a source of baseload electricity. It can also help decarbonize hard to abate sectors such as transportation and industry and play a significant role in 2050 carbon neutrality, including producing low-carbon hydrogen.

“Once you have set a target, in this case, net-zero emissions by 2050, then you work the calendar backwards, and you start making your calculations,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said. “A certain combination, a certain number of mixes, not one single one, offers the solution. And nuclear is part of the equation.”

Nuclear techniques to help adaptation to the effects of climate change

One of COP26’s major topics are National Determined Contributions (NDC), which are concrete national plans to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Under this topic, in addition to mitigation efforts, the delegations at COP26 will also discuss how to deal with the effects of climate change already apparent: protecting and restoring ecosystems and building resilient infrastructure. Discussions on how to finance these measures will form an essential part of the agenda.   

“At COP26, we will also look at how nuclear techniques and applications can help to tackle problems brought about by global warming,” Mr Grossi said.

Nuclear techniques help the development of more resilient crop varieties that can produce high yields under dryer and hotter climatic conditions. They can support climate-smart agriculture, which minimizes the use of water and fertilizer, to provide food security in a changing climate. Other nuclear applications help populations cope with shrinking water sources and invasive pests.

Nuclear and isotopic techniques are also applied to investigate and understand the world around us. They increase our understanding of how the atmosphere, the oceans and other ecosystems change and what consequences this brings. Scientists and researchers around the world can closely scrutinize how climate change is affecting the quality of soils, the recharge rate of groundwater or the prevalence of contaminants in our air – valuable information for decision makers to develop adequate response strategies.

Preparing for COP26

In recent months, Mr Grossi has provided remarks about the contribution of nuclear technologies to achieve the climate goals at the United Nations High Level Dialogue Ministerial Thematic Forums, the Clean Energy Ministerial, the IEA-COP 26 Net Zero Summit and other events. IAEA experts briefed policymakers at a special event at the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.  The IAEA also organized a series of topical webinars focusing on the vital role of nuclear in the fight against climate change.

The IAEA has invited people aged 18 to 35 to participate in the IAEA Net Zero Challenge. They developed policy recommendations for the transition to low-carbon energy systems by answering the question: “How can nuclear energy alongside other low-carbon sources help your country or region to achieve their net zero targets?” The top five participants will be invited to make their case at a side event during the IAEA General Conference in September 2021 and the winner will be offered an opportunity to attend COP26.

The IAEA will continue highlighting the contributions of nuclear technologies to effective climate change mitigation and adaptation. To this end, the IAEA will engage with participants at high-level international events such as the UN Food Summit and the UN High Level Dialogue on Energy.

Explainer stories and videos on science and technology for climate change are available on the dedicated web page, which serves as the IAEA’s hub for COP26 related content.

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