Day two of COP23 in Bonn

Day two of COP23 was all about attending side events and making connections for possible Climate Action Studio interviews with the team back in Reading, UK, later in the week. I attended three very interesting events covering a range of topics across the day.

The morning saw an impressive seminar on the importance of women’s land rights. The principle at play is fairly self-explanatory: people are much more likely to care about and look after their land if they have a secure and reproducible claim to it, and can be sure it won’t be appropriated by the government, stolen by others, or turn out to be subject to a murky competing claim of ownership. Despite the benefits of clear and enforceable property rights extending well beyond the environmental, many areas of the world still lack such a system. Sometimes governments lack the will to give up such a tempting lever of control as land rights, and sometimes the will is there but the political situation lacks the requisite stability. The situation is notably worse for women than for men worldwide, and multiple studies have confirmed a strong link between climate change and workable property rights for women. Several representatives gave case studies of work they have been doing in the field.

In the evening, I was treated to a memorable and moving statement from a representative of the Church of Tuvalu, whose nation is literally disappearing before his eyes, as part of an event on migration and displacement as a result of climate change. Much of the discussion focussed on the successful defining of a non-economic loss and damages item in the COP proceedings, but a number of other issues, including questions of group identity, were discussed in an eclectic session.

Despite these impressive events, the highlight of the day was, without a doubt, the nuclear energy discussion hosted by Turkey’s representatives at COP. A team of nuclear engineers, environmental scientists, and a philosopher deployed a forceful and compelling set of arguments for nuclear energy’s place in fossil fuel replacement. A new breed of nuclear reactors, called Type IV, has been developed, which actually uses nuclear waste from other reactors (huge amounts of which has been lying around for some time as we awkwardly tried to work out what to do with it) and even nuclear weaponry (which could very much do with being put to some use) as fuel. In a stroke, the single biggest reason not to use nuclear (the waste) has been turned into a positive! These new reactors are waste-negative, actually reducing the amount of harmful nuclear waste we have to deal with. It is estimated that there’s enough nuclear waste lying about to power the world for 100 years with these new reactors, by which time they’ll be at the end of their life-cycles and renewables should be able to take their place, so no further uranium mining (which can be environmentally hazardous) would even be necessary!

I and several other audience members raised some objections which were dealt with well by the team, however the event sadly descended into less productive territory as a small group of agitators derailed the event with heckling, compared some of the panel to Donald Trump, abused the moderator, questioned the motives and honesty of the panel, and accused them of lying for financial gain (an idea which the philosopher, who lives out of his car, found particularly ticking). Although the onslaught clearly shook one or two of the panel, they remained calm and polite throughout in an admirable display of restraint. You can safely call me a convert to new nuclear.

Ben Thomas is a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Reading. He is one-half of the COP CAS on-the-ground team at COP23.