Japan nuclear crisis to affect climate battle: EU

Japan’s nuclear crisis will have a clear impact on global efforts to fight climate change, the chief EU negotiator said Sunday as the latest round of UN talks got under way.

“Nuclear is one of those energy options that has very, very low greenhouse gas emissions,” Artur Runge-Metzger said at a news conference on the sidelines of the meeting in Bangkok.

“If you look at the energy mix countries were planning to have in the future, nuclear plays an important role.”

But since an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 sparked an emergency at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, in many of those countries doubts have now emerged about the nuclear option, he added.

“I think there will be a lot of political considerations,” Runge-Metzger said. “Certainly, this is something that has an impact on climate negotiations.”

Several developing countries, whose greenhouse gas emissions have risen sharply in recent years owing to their rapid economic growth, have shown interest in nuclear power to meet their soaring energy demand.

Workers at the Japanese plant at the centre of the worst atomic accident since Chernobyl have been battling to prevent a major disaster after the quake and tsunami damaged the plant and knocked out the cooling system.

Contamination has been found in the air, tap water, farm produce and sea near the stricken plant, adding to worries about public safety. But the crisis must not lead to reduced ambitions about tackling climate change, with renewable energy an alternative option, Runge-Metzger said, while indicating that the EU might re-examine its own energy roadmap.

Negotiators at the first UN climate talks of the year are looking to hammer out the details of an accord reached in the Mexican resort of Cancun in December last year that brought cautious optimism to the difficult process.

The six days of discussions, which begin Sunday with informal workshops, are being held as the world’s energy problems are in sharp focus amid the Japanese troubles and with oil prices hovering near record highs.

In Cancun, more than 190 countries called for “urgent action” to keep temperatures from rising no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, pledging “deep cuts” in greenhouse gas emissions.

But after US President Barack Obama’s setback in the November midterm elections, “the politics are looking much more difficult this year,” Runge-Metzger said.