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Nuclear Technology for Climate: Mitigation, Monitoring and Adaptation

Vienna, Austria
Scientific Forum

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(Delivered by Aldo Malavasi, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications)

Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome you all to this 2018 IAEA Scientific Forum and I regret that I cannot be with you.

We are honoured that Her Royal Highness Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan of Jordan is present today.

The IAEA has cooperated with Jordan in many different areas, including in nuclear medicine and in setting up SESAME, the first regional synchrotron in the Middle East. SESAME is an excellent example of multinational collaboration to advance science and research.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Climate change is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time.

Its impacts are already being felt throughout the world. Just this summer, countries in the northern hemisphere experienced the highest temperatures in decades, with devastating consequences for some.

Such extreme weather events could become more frequent, along with rising and warming oceans, an increase in drought and flooding, and the spread of harmful insects – and diseases – to regions previously unaffected.

The need to fight climate change has been recognised as a global priority in the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in 2015, and in the Paris Agreement of 2016.

Nuclear technology has an important role to play in a number of ways. Nuclear power can help to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, while other applications of nuclear science and technology can help countries to monitor the effects of climate change and adapt to them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Some 70% of the world’s electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency. By 2050, if climate change goals are to be met, around 80% of electricity will need to be low-carbon.

At present, nuclear power produces only 11 percent of the world’s electricity. But it generates almost one third of the global total of low-carbon electricity.

The use of nuclear power reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about two gigatonnes per year. That is the equivalent of taking more than 400 million cars off the road – every year.

In my opinion, it will be difficult for the world to meet the challenges of securing sufficient energy, and to achieve the Paris goal of limiting the average global temperature increase to 2 degrees centigrade, without making more use of nuclear power.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nuclear technology can be particularly useful in helping countries to adapt to some of the problems already caused by climate change, including water scarcity, land degradation and an increase in animal diseases and insect pests.

For example, drip irrigation, used throughout the world to conserve precious water, can be made more effective by using an isotopic technique.

Plant breeding techniques using radiation help countries to develop and grow new varieties of crops such as rice and barley. These produce higher yields and are more resistant to drought and disease, which could become more frequent.

The sterile insect technique, a form of birth control for harmful insect pests involving radiation, has been used successfully to combat the Zika virus in Brazil and to control the Mediterranean fruit fly in Morocco.

Tomorrow’s session will consider these and other applications, as well as considering how the valuable data provided by nuclear science helps us to better monitor the impact of climate variations on our planet and to measure the effects of greenhouse gases on oceans and marine organisms.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA is committed to helping countries make optimal use of nuclear science and technology to protect the environment and respond to climate change.

I am confident that your discussions in the next two days will bring us new insights on how we can maximize this technology to reach our common goals.

I am grateful to the many experts, both on the podium and in the audience, who have come to share their knowledge at this IAEA Scientific Forum.

I wish you a very successful meeting.

Thank you.

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