The UK and Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) publishes today a detailed report considering the impact of the coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it is also known, on the nuclear sector, on the climate crisis and what government can do next to keep the economy moving through strong support of the low carbon, renewable sector. (1)
NFLA notes that an analysis by Carbon Brief (2) suggests the Covid-19 pandemic could cause emissions cuts globally this year in the region of 1,600m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2). Although this number is necessarily uncertain, countries and sectors not yet included in the analysis can be expected to add to the total. But this is equivalent to only around 4% of the global total in 2019. Although the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war, it would not come close to the 7.6% fall countries need to achieve every year in order to limit warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. (3) To put it another way, atmospheric carbon levels are still expected to increase this year, and rising CO2 concentrations will only stabilise once annual emissions reach net-zero.
This NFLA report gives a thorough analysis of how the nuclear sector is dealing with this pandemic. Whilst the sector appears to be just about managing, there are clear questions about how statutory outages are to be dealt with – plans for outages at Heysham A in May and Torness in July could create real problems if up to 1,000 new contract workers come on those sites. It is also of concern that a severe nuclear accident under pandemic conditions would inevitably exacerbate the inevitable highly adverse consequences. The ongoing construction at Hinkley Point C, despite the pandemic, has been a matter of much concern, and NFLA believe all but control and maintenance operations should continue at the site – it has consistently called for the construction to be curtailed due to the significant public health risk.
In Scotland, NFLA notes that ‘The Ferret’ website reports that Faslane nuclear base and nuclear power plants have been given the green light to break safety limits on radioactive waste, because during the Covid-19 crisis the industry’s ability to run their operations may be compromised by a lack of available staff, the need to protect staff and minimise transmission of the Covid-19 virus. (4)
Despite all the evidence suggesting it is renewable energy that has been thriving at the expense of fossil fuels and nuclear power, the NFLA notes the pro-nuclear lobby still parrots the need for new nuclear as a way out of the crisis. Yet, as Bloomberg News has noted, nuclear is being ‘hammered’ by renewable energy solutions and the problems created by the pandemic. (5)
The report argues that the world is at a critical juncture. On one side, governments could throw public money at companies without any pre-conditions, and fossil-fuel-based industries receiving the lions share, or there is an opportunity for a new kind of economics emerging with a ‘green’ recovery stimulus package. This could recognise the urgency of tackling climate change, build resilience to guard against future pandemics, reject the fiction that a liveable future can be driven solely by self-interest, and cultivate the civic virtues that underpin many of the successes in battling Covid-19.
For local authorities the recovery also offers an opportunity to leapfrog forward with existing plans already being drawn up to tackle the climate emergency. For example, levels of traffic can be kept at a new low and walking and cycling raised to a new high. Stimulus package funding could be directed at renewable and energy efficiency projects which not only create new jobs, foster the new civic virtues which have emerged during the pandemic and generate new income streams to protect services into a future which will undoubtedly be burdened by some huge levels of national debt.
By the end of February 2020 over 280 local authorities, including 65% of District, County, Unitary & Metropolitan Councils, 8 Combined Authorities/City Regions (6) and 18 local authorities in the Republic of Ireland had declared a ‘climate emergency’. (7) Many of these authorities will be well on the way to drawing up plans which could form the backbone of a green sustainable recovery. As can be seen from the NFLA’s parallel Climate Emergency Policy Briefing published yesterday (8), many of the projects being proposed can actually make money for local authorities. As the World Bank points out, energy efficiency, nature conservation, clean energy options, and the sustainability of transport are clear ‘win-win’ areas for stimulus investments. “A clear option to create many jobs and support economic recovery is to invest massively in retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient, more comfortable and healthier.” (9)
NFLA call on national governments across the UK and Ireland to work in partnership with local government to deliver a green stimulus that can create new jobs, stabilise the economy going forward and achieve the essential carbon reductions to deal with the climate crisis. This is an unprecedented opportunity for positive change and, if spurned, all of us will be affected for generations to come. If taken, though, all parts of society and the environment could greatly benefit.
Chair of the UK and Ireland NFLA Steering Committee, Councillor David Blackburn, said:
“This NFLA report on the Covid-19 outbreak and what may happen next when it is fully under control makes for enlightening reading that we call on all policymakers to study. The current public health emergency has been like nothing our countries have ever seen since the Second World War. What followed that conflict was the Marshall Plan stimulus that brought about the consumer revolution. Today, governments have the opportunity to do something similar but this time they can also protect the environment for our children and grandchildren. With a close partnership between central and local government a new ‘green’ stimulus could be one of the most important endeavours we as politicians may ever do. Let’s not waste the chance and deliver a way out of this public health crisis, as well as more effectively tackling the much bigger climate crisis at the same time.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes to Editors:
(1) NFLA Policy Briefing 200 on Covid-19 and its aftermath is attached with this media release, and will be on the NFLA website homepage https://www.nuclearpolicy.info
(2) Carbon Brief 9th April 2020
(3) New Scientist 26th November 2019
(4) The Ferret 12th April 2020
(5) Bloomberg, 4th May 2020
(8) NFLA Policy Briefing 199, 4th May 2020
(9) World Bank blog, 30th March 2020