Nuclear power not sustainable energy solution: Brundtland

Taipei, Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who is often dubbed the “godmother of sustainable development,” said Monday in Taipei that neither nuclear power nor fossil fuel is a sustainable solution to the world’s energy problem, and governments have to balance the risks of how they are used.

Brundtland, who is visiting Taiwan for the Gro Brundtland Week of Women in Sustainable Development, was asked in an interview with CNA about her advice to Taiwan’s government, which is trying to reconcile a nuclear-free future with that of a carbon-free future.

Taiwan wants to phase out nuclear energy by 2025, but faces the dilemma of having to expand coal-fired power plants to prevent a power shortage.

Brundtland said it was difficult for her to comment on Taiwan’s case because she was not familiar with the details behind Taiwan’s energy policy but indicated that it was not an uncommon dilemma.

A similar dilemma arose, Brundtland said, when she was chairperson of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development and it published its landmark 1987 report titled “Our Common Future” (also known as the “Brundtland Report”), which coined the term “sustainable development.”

She said it was difficult for members of the commission to reach a consensus on what they should do with nuclear energy, because they had already identified the danger of climate change and the need to gradually abolish fossil fuels.

“The question then was: we couldn’t see sufficient renewable energy sources appearing quickly enough in the coming decades…so where does energy come from?” she said.

The commission eventually agreed that nuclear energy is not a sustainable energy source until its “unsolved problems have been solved,” Brundtland said.

“Thirty years later, the problems of security linked to nuclear energy have still not been solved, so it is still not a sustainable solution,” she said. “However, neither are fossil fuels. So we are in a dilemma here.”

She said the key is to balance these risks, as Taiwan is trying to do.

She cited Norway as an example of a country that does not rely on nuclear power.

In the 1970s, she said Norway debated whether it should build nuclear power plants, but as the environment minister at the time, she led the country in rejecting nuclear energy.

Today, Norway relies on its solid hydropower-based renewable energy source, she said.

When asked if the U.S. withdrawal from the 2016 Paris Agreement will have a lasting impact on the global sustainable development goal, Brundtland said the U.S. cannot withdraw from the agreement overnight and if a new U.S. president is elected, the threat might not materialize.

Nearly all of the countries have rallied around the Paris Agreement, as have states, corporations and institutions in the United States, because they recognize that it is the global trend, she said.

She encouraged young people to learn more about sustainable development issues, and press their leaders to do the right thing and avoid undermining their future.

Brundtland was awarded the first Tang Prize in sustainable development in 2014 for her “innovation, leadership, and implementation of sustainable development for the benefit of humanity.”

She has also served as Norway’s environment minister, director-general of the World Health Organization, and a U.N. Special Envoy on Climate Change.

She is currently deputy chairperson of The Elders, a group of world leaders brought together in 2007 by late South African President Nelson Mandela to work for peace and human rights.

Her 1987 “Brundtland Report” laid the groundwork for the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which produced a global action plan for sustainable development known as Agenda 21 and initiated the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The convention led to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol — the predecessor of the Paris Agreement.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel