NASA researcher James Hansen says the current climate change mitigation architecture is doomed to fail. Instead of relying on the “flexibility tools” such as the Clean Development Mechanism, the system should rely on more profound transformation of the way we produce energy.

In an open letter to the President-elect, Barack Obama, Hansen summarizes the main points listed in a report entitled “Tell Barack Obama the Truth”. The report and letter are available online.

Hansen criticises the current climate change mitigation architecture: Emission trading is yet another way for countries to dodge genuine emission reductions at home by offsetting their emissions abroad. While Japan is regarded as a good international player on the UNFCCC game board, Hansen highlights the fact that the country has steadily been increasing its production of power from coal, the dirtiest of fuels. This increase in emission-intensive power production was made “legal” under international standards largely through the CDM: Japan bought loads of Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) from China, the single largest producer of these emission offsets.

For Hansen, the alternative would be, inter alia, to further invest in clean technologies RD&D, thus shifting the basis on which power generation is operated worldwide. Hansen specifically suggests to Barack Obama to foster research in fourth generation nuclear power. “In our opinion [fourth generation nuclear power] deserves your strong support, because it has the potential to help solve past problems with nuclear power: nuclear waste, the need to mine for nuclear fuel, and release of radioactive material.”

The idea that nuclear energy is a powerful ally in the fight against Climate Change is not new. However, security and safety issues have worked against any large-scale deployment (transfer) of nuclear technology. A significant advantage of fourth generation nuclear reactors is their “resistance” to nuclear proliferation and their low waste output (more info). Of course, fourth generation nuclear reactors are yet to be built. It would take 20 years from now to see the first operating “Gen-IV”, but technological progress is an uncertain variable, leaving space for both pessimism and optimism.  

Of interest in relation to Mr. Hansen’s call for RD&D in clean energy like fourth generation nuclear power would be the Gen-IV International Forum (GIF), created by the US DoE. The GIF is a multilateral organisation now gathering representatives from 9 countries. The organism has given the IEA and the OECD permanent observer status. Serious work is thus under way, but a stronger implication of committed national authorities can only accelerate the process.

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