In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan many commentators, including some leading environmentalists argued that despite the inherent risks of nuclear power, it was still a necessary evil in the battle about climate change.

They joined other pro-nuclear voices that have been growing steadily over the last few years in arguing that when push comes to shove, renewables just would not make the grade in the fight against climate change.

But a new ground-breaking and authoritative report from the world’s leading experts – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has predicted that nearly 80 per cent of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by 2050,  if the political and economic will is there.

It has taken 120 researchers nearly 3 years to compile the report.

The report concluded that if pro-renewable policies were implemented it could represent a cut of around a third in greenhouse gas emissions compared to a business-as-usual scenario, which could in turn assist in keeping concentrations of greenhouse gases at 450 parts per million.

This could in turn contribute towards a goal of holding the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, a key policy aim of the UN.

What makes the report even more important is that it has been approved by all the member countries of the IPCC at their meeting in Abu Dhabi.

“With consistent climate and energy policy support, renewable energy sources can contribute substantially to human well-being by sustainably supplying energy and stabilizing the climate,” said Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, Co-Chair of Working Group III at the report launch.

The potential is huge: Direct solar, for example, contributes only a fraction of one percent to total global energy supply, yet it could become “one of the major sources of energy supply” producing a third of electricity. Wind Energy could increase from 2 to 20 per cent.

And what’s more the scientists are talking about the potential from existing technologies. Just think of the potential of new cleaner technologies too.

Interestingly the scientists excluded nuclear from its definition of renewable energy, which is enough to outrage even the calmest nuclear spin doctor.

But at the end of the day, it is not so much as the technological challenge, but the political one that could be the biggest hurdle.

Ramon Pichs, another co-chair, said the report, said: “The report shows it is not the availability of the resource, but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over coming decades,” he said

And then there is the cost: The bill for this clean revolution will not come cheap. The UN expects it could be as much as $15,000bn – more than the entire US government debt.

But although that seems a large number, investing in renewables to the extent needed would cost only about 1% of global GDP annually, argued Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC.

So what better way to send a political and financial message than for the US to start scrapping lucrative subsidies to the oil industry as soon as possible, and putting the money instead into clean energy.


  • Who are these environmental groups that pulled the grand 180 spin, and jumped in the sack with the nuclear industry? But more importantly, why does it take catastrophic failures for people to argue against nuclear energy and its inherently blatant dangers to people. Prior to the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophic failure, people were choosing the lesser of the two evils with the evils being coal and nuclear energy. Very few, if any, of the mainstream environmental and climate change groups spoke of the evils in nuclear energy, instead choosing to call it a solution in reducing carbon emissions.
    Here is the case, say, for example, Union Carbide decided that it wanted to build some chemical processing plant in your backyard, it applies for the right which is granted because the application is sufficient. The majority of the people in the backyard agree to the plant because they need the jobs for bring life to their blighted economy. Then an act of God happens, the plant explodes, kills thousands; in the aftermath, although the license application was sufficient, it clearly was a risk that gets turned against those wanting the jobs. The plant bellies up, leaving destruction.
    This happens every day in some form or another in this country, causing the toxic industries to go overseas where they’ve messed up the lives of people but don’t have to fear repercussions or any liability.
    When Fukushima Daiichi exploded, I wondered when all the attention freaks would come out the wood work, claiming they were against nuclear energy all along. And not once even noting that there are hundreds of people that have been opposing nuclear energy for over 40 years. The past is sometimes forgotten by those forgetting that they’ll grow old.

  • We absolutely need to be heavily investing in renewable energy projects and renewable energy research. Unfortunately, in the US we live in a country of idiots who don’t even believe in climate change, and I don’t see it happening any time soon, and we need to act now. Nuclear energy appears to be an easier sell than an apollo project for renewable energy, and there’s no reason we can’t build nuclear plants and phase them out after spinning up enough renewable energy projects that they are no longer needed.

    I used to be against nuclear energy, because of the possibility of catastrophic accidents, and because I had heard that they aren’t a good investment because they cost too much to build and thus aren’t really competitive.

    I recently changed my thinking on the matter, after reading about James Hansen’s proposed solutions which include 4th generation nuclear power plants: and after reading this article ( ). It makes a pretty compelling argument for IFRs (Integral Fast Reactor), a type of nuclear reactor that apparently was operated for 30 years as an experiment without incident, would be powered by our massive stockpile of existing nuclear waste and turns it into short-lived nuclear waste with a half-life of 30 years, and passively shut down in the event of an accident (unlike what happened at Fukushima, etc.).

    I’m all for renewables that aren’t so scary sounding, but they don’t seem to be replacing coal plants yet, and we ought to switch to another way to generate power soon that doesn’t mess up the climate.

    Even current 3rd generation nuclear power plants are supposedly passively safe, and belch fewer radioactive particles into the air than current coal plants do.

    Nuclear isn’t my first choice, but it seems foolish to rule it out, because it’s better than the alternative (doing nothing, or even not doing enough).

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