Shall we build our energy system from straw? Or sticks? Or bricks?
The Observer splash led with an assertion that “David Cameron’s commitment to the green agenda will come under the fiercest scrutiny yet this week when top climate-change experts will warn that only greater use of renewable energy – including windfarms – can prevent a global catastrophe.”
Once again, the latest IPCC report has been undermined by being used as a political football: by politicians, by journalists, and by mainstream environmentalists. Each one interpreting the findings to serve their own interests, whether to bash the opposite party, push an editorial line, or bang the drum for a pet technology.
Yes, we need renewable energy. But firstly, it is arrogant to dismiss the rest. Secondly, it’s dangerous to cherry pick from the IPCC recommendations to suggest that we can keep the wolf from blowing our house down by tripling renewable energy alone. The truth is the IPCC calls for tripling, or near quadrupling, the current output of ALL zero and low carbon technologies. That sounds like a brick house to me.
So, rather than dismiss the bad boy of energy policy because it is too difficult, or not popular enough, we need a realistic change in tone to say: yes, we do need all of the above, including nuclear. Here are the challenges, now let’s have an honest appraisal of what needs to happen to fix valid concerns about safety, waste, proliferation and cost. The alternative is arrogantly believing that houses of straw and twigs will protect us from the Big Bad Wolf. We need our political leaders and opinion formers to take the IPCC findings seriously and making big efforts to meet those challenges to enable all low carbon technologies to be deployed at scale.
With nuclear, there are significant technological, regulatory, political and public perception challenges to overcome. Who is leading this charge? I see significant gaps in this effort amongst the international community. The United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative should be at the vanguard, but it’s not. This is just one example of how the public debate and policy agenda is being distorted as to what is realistic in meeting the objective of a clean energy future.
As US secretary of state John Kerry put it on Sunday: “This report makes very clear we face an issue of global willpower, not capacity.”