Achieving a world without nuclear weapons: the contribution of domestic and regional policies

The establishment of Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ) in the past has made invaluable contributions to global nuclear disarmament. The further spread of such zones as well as adoption of domestic nuclear prohibition and divestment policies can pave the way for multilateral solutions. The World Future Council has developed proposals on how to further foster nuclear disarmament through national and regional policies.

Nuclear weapons are a global threat which requires a global solution. However, domestic and regional policies can make a vital contribution to advancing universal nuclear disarmament. While the treaties establishing the existing regional Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones are well known and generally regarded as critical contributions to global nuclear disarmament (together covering 114 states), the instances of national nuclear prohibition legislation and nuclear divestment policies have not received the same amount of attention or, indeed, credit. This is unfortunate as these policies have advanced nuclear disarmament, can inspire other countries to follow suit and contain lessons for the global disarmament endeavour.

Between 2 May and 13 May 2016 the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) met for a second round in Geneva to discuss proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons. The OEWG was established on the basis of a UN General Assembly resolution. Among the participants were numerous countries (though notably absent were all the nuclear-armed states), advocacy groups, research institutes, academic institutes and think tanks, including the World Future Council.

From domestic to international law – Stories of successful legislation

Some countries, such as New Zealand, the Philippines, Austria and Mongolia have banned nuclear weapons through national legislation. These policies have contributed to strengthening the nuclear prohibition norm and addressed specific security challenges.

Some of the laws contain innovative elements such as individual responsibility and extraterritorial application in the case of the New Zealand law, which prohibits New Zealand’s citizens and residents to manufacture, to acquire, to possess or to control nuclear weapons as well as to aid and to abet any other person to do so anywhere in the world. These aspects of the policy could be useful to multilateral efforts to criminalise nuclear weapons employment such as through the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court.

In the case of Mongolia, the country’s subsequent work to have its nuclear weapon-free status recognised and respected through acquiring assurances by the nuclear-armed states they won’t target Mongolia with nuclear weapons, means its policy is seen to have acquired the status of ‘Single State NWFZ’.

All policies contain elements and lessons that could be considered in the pursuit of similar policies elsewhere. The triggering effect of single countries building a regime of domestic regional nuclear disarmament law should not be underestimated.

For example, Belgium adopted national legislation banning landmines and cluster munitions as well as any investment in such weapons, before the international processes that would ultimately culminate in the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty and the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions had started. This demonstrates how domestic legislative initiatives can inspire, strengthen and shape the international processes that culminate in international disarmament treaties.

Banning investment in nuclear weapons

Divestment of landmines and cluster munitions producers has successfully been adopted in a number of countries. Divestment from corporations involved in the production of key components of nuclear weapons has not been pursued with the same vigour, though the Norwegian and New Zealand Government Pension Funds have implemented such schemes. More recently, the Swiss War Materials Act was revised to prohibit, inter alia, the financing of nuclear weapon producers. The effect of such divestment policies should not be underestimated. They contribute to stigmatising nuclear weapons and address the financial streams tied up in their production.

An interesting aspect of both nuclear prohibition and divestment policies is that they can lead to the democratisation of the nuclear disarmament debate, as they often originate from public movements and require legislators to become active on the issue. Furthermore, such policies can institutionalize nuclear disarmament expertise and commitment through the creation of organs committed to promoting policy objectives as well as become educational tools, both domestically and abroad. Perhaps most importantly, they offer a way for non-nuclear weapon states to take the initiative out of the hands of the nuclear-armed states, brandish their nuclear disarmament credentials, codify nuclear disarmament norms and in the process exert pressure on the possessor states.

Lifelong Canadian disarmament campaigner Douglas Roche has said that “the anti-nuclear weapons campaign is following the classic lines of other great social movements, such as the end of slavery, colonialism and apartheid: at first, the idea is dismissed by the powerful, then when the idea starts to take hold, it is vigorously objected to until, by persistence, the idea enters the norm of public thinking and laws start to be changed.” Countries should ensure they end up on the right side of history by adopting laws that strengthen and speed up the global effort to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones

Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones or NWFZs are zones that have been established on the basis of a treaty or convention which are characterized by the total absence of nuclear weapons. Every state has the right and sovereignty to establish such a zone and to determine its frontier. An international system of verification and control guarantees compliance with the rules established. These zones must be recognized by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

 

Examining the interplay between climate change and nuclear weapons

Two principal threats of our time

While humanity faces a range of interconnected transnational threats and crises in the 21st Century—including extreme poverty, hunger, pandemic disease and demographic change—climate change and the continued existence of nuclear weapons stand out as the two principal threats to the survival of humanity. On the long arc of human existence, both threats are relatively new to the scene, having only appeared over the last century. Both threaten the survival of life on earth as we know it and both are of our making.

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Kanagawa

The report was updated in April 2016

As the Word Future Council has highlighted in a recent report, climate change and nuclear weapons interact with each other in a range of ways. Conflicts induced or exacerbated by climate change could contribute to global insecurity, which, in turn, could enhance the chance of a nuclear weapon being used, could create more fertile breeding grounds for terrorism, including nuclear terrorism, and could feed the ambitions among some states to acquire nuclear arms. Furthermore, as evidenced by a series of incidents in recent years, extreme weather events, environmental degradation and major seismic events can directly impact the safety and security of nuclear installations. Moreover, a nuclear war could lead to a rapid and prolonged drop in average global temperatures and significantly disrupt the global climate for years to come, which would have disastrous implications for agriculture, threatening the food supply for most of the world (see Figure 1). Finally, climate change, nuclear weapons and nuclear energy pose threats of intergenerational harm, as evidenced by the transgenerational effects of nuclear testing and nuclear power accidents and the lasting impacts on the climate, environment and public health from carbon emissions.

The need for global action

Negotiations and initiatives for tackling the climate and nuclear threat are reaching a critical stage. At the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015 (COP 21), the global community reached an unprecedented agreement on climate change. The Paris Agreement sets out a global action plan to peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C with the aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. However, there is some concern about whether this agreement can be enforced effectively. Countries are required to communicate Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to mitigation of and adaptation to climate change which will be regularly reviewed. However, meeting the goals set in the INDCs is not legally required.

Meanwhile, calls from a majority of states for a legally binding instrument or package of measures to achieve the universal prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons—a goal as old as the nuclear age—have languished. Despite a recent series of interventions setting out the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons by high-level statesmen—including from the nuclear armed-states—concrete action toward its achievement has lagged, although this has the possibility to change with a new process for nuclear disarmament deliberations and negotiations currently taking place at the United Nations in Geneva.

This lack of progress on nuclear disarmament has been starkly contrasted by a renewed focus on the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons and recent revelations on the kaleidoscope of risks inherent to nuclear policies and postures. The sobering conclusions are that: a) as long as nuclear weapons exist, their use, whether accidental or intentional, will be a matter of when, not if; b) any use of nuclear weapons in a populated area would have catastrophic consequences on human health, the environment, infrastructure and political stability; and c) the use of just a small percentage of the global nuclear arsenal would create climatic consequences that dwarf the current and projected impact of carbon emissions.

The availability of solutions

Overall, the discrepancy between long-term goals and concrete steps undermines the conditions for international cooperation in security and climate policies. Despite growing awareness of the urgency of tackling the climate and nuclear threat among policy-makers, academics and civil society, concrete action is lagging behind.

Why is this so, when considering that renewable energy technologies provide viable alternatives? (see Figure 2) By harnessing local renewable energy sources, jurisdictions increase their political and energy independency, while the degree of local and international cooperation needed to transition to 100% Renewable Energy can act as a catalyst for cooperation in tackling other transnational security threats. This helps solving geopolitical crises, avoid future armed conflicts triggered by climate instability and resource scarcity, and build cooperative security mechanisms. Similarly, regional initiatives could attempt to tackle both climatic and security threats. For example, Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones (which already cover the entire Southern Hemisphere – see Figure 3) can, in turn, promote regional environmental and climate protection policies, as exemplified by the Antarctic Treaty System. Such action could also be sought in the Arctic, where the effects of climate change and the dangers of nuclear weapons come together as increased competition over resources and the opening up of routes for military maneuvering and posturing, including with nuclear weapons, can heighten tensions between the region’s powers.

The legal imperative

Finally, there exist international legal obligations both with regard to curbing climate change and achieving universal nuclear disarmament. It is thus not surprising that on both fronts, litigation has been pursued to ensure these obligations are implemented. Climate cases have been filed in several countries, including in the Netherlands, where the Court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, noting that the State has a legal obligation to protect its citizens, ordering the Dutch government to reduce its CO2 emissions by a minimum of 25% (compared to 1990) by 2020.

On the nuclear front, the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed applications in 2014 in the International Court of Justice against the nine nuclear-armed states (US, UK, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea), claiming that they are in breach of obligations relating to nuclear disarmament under the NPT and under customary international law. Cases are proceeding in March 2016 against the three of the nuclear-armed states that have accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ—the UK, India, and Pakistan.

A cautionary tale

For the people of the Marshall Islands, and a rising number of people in other parts of the world, the effects of these two threats are not a theoretical, future issue of concern. Behind the facts and figures are stories of real suffering from climate change and nuclear weapons programmes.

The plight of one group in particular is illustrative of the human impact of the nuclear enterprise and climate change. The inhabitants of the remote Pacific island chain of Bikini Atoll were forced from their homes in the 1940s so that the United States could test its atomic bombs there, bringing with it a legacy of transgenerational effects of radiation exposure, including high cancer rates, birth deformities and environmental poisoning. The lands they had called home were declared uninhabitable. Now, the tiny patches of earth they were relocated to in the Marshall Islands are at risk of suffering the same fate, as rising sea levels are breaching sea walls, washing over their islands, killing crops and forcing the Bikini Atoll refugees to consider relocating again – this time to foreign continents thousands of miles away. As if to underline the potentially catastrophic convergence of both perils, there is even the danger that rising sea levels could spill the radioactive waste from testing, which has been stored on the islands, into the ocean. Their experience should serve as a cautionary tale. If we don’t seize the opportunities soon to rid the world of these threats, we will drift toward a similar fate.

Please note that the report was updated in April 2016 to reflect the outcome of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference as well as include developments on the front of climate change litigation efforts.

This article was originally published in the World Commerce Review.

The Nuclear Abolition Forum

The Nuclear Abolition Forum was established in 2011 as a joint project of eight civil society organisations to facilitate dialogue between academics, governments, disarmament experts and NGOs on key issues regarding achieving and sustaining a nuclear weapon-free world. Hosted by the WFC, the Forum is able to rely on over 70 high-level consultants to ensure quality contributions.

Q&A: The Marshall Islands’ Nuclear Disarmament Cases

Oral hearings on the preliminary phase of the nuclear disarmament cases brought by the Marshall Islands against India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom took place at the International Court of Justice in The Hague from 7-16 March. Members of the World Future Council have been involved in this unprecedented legal action since its launch in 2014 and some were present during the oral arguments at the Court. This Q&A, created by the Nuclear Peace Foundation,  explains the cases.

What is the source of the International Court of Justice’s legal authority?

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations (UN). It was established in 1945 by the UN Charter. The seat of the Court is at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. The Court’s role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized UN bodies and agencies. The Court’s 15 judges are elected by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council.

Which countries are the Marshall Islands suing, and why?

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has a unique and devastating history with nuclear weapons. From 1946 – 1958 the United States conducted 67 nuclear weapons test explosions over the Marshall Islands, the equivalent of 1.7 Hiroshima-sized bombs daily for 12 years. Castle Bravo, the largest bomb ever tested, was 1000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Birth defects never seen before and other radiation-related health effects continue to plague the Marshallese people.

On April 24, 2014 the RMI filed individual Applications in the ICJ instituting proceedings against the nine nuclear-armed States: the U.S., Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea. The RMI contends that each of these States is in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and/or customary international law to end the nuclear arms race and to engage in negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

Article VI of the NPT states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” The UK is a founding member of the NPT, which entered into force in 1970. The U.S., Russia, France and China are also nuclear-armed members of the NPT; nuclear-armed India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea are not. The RMI joined the Treaty in 1995 as a non-nuclear-weapon State and in turn received the binding legal promise of the States parties to the Treaty, including the nuclear-armed States.

In a 1996 Advisory Opinion, the ICJ issued an authoritative interpretation of Article VI and recognized a parallel customary international law obligation, concluding unanimously: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” This Opinion is not limited to NPT members; it applies to all States.

No negotiations on nuclear disarmament have ever been initiated and all of the nuclear-armed states are currently engaged in programs to modernize and qualitatively improve their nuclear arsenals, with an eye toward their indefinite retention. India and Pakistan are also engaged in quantitative arms racing.

Why were hearings held only in the cases of the UK, India and Pakistan?

At this time, only the UK, India and Pakistan – among the nuclear-armed states – accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ. The other nuclear-armed states were invited to respond to the Applications submitted by the RMI. China declined; the others did not respond.

What was the scope of the hearings?

This stage of the cases was limited to preliminary objections. The UK and India claimed that they have strong records of support for nuclear disarmament, arguing therefore that there is no dispute for the Court to adjudicate. The RMI countered that actions speak louder than words, citing the UK’s consistent record of voting against nuclear disarmament resolutions in the UN General Assembly and its plans to replace its Trident nuclear weapons system. With respect to India and Pakistan, the RMI cited programs underway for expansion, improvement and diversification of their nuclear arsenals. The UK and India also argued that the cases cannot proceed without other states possessing nuclear arms being before the Court; that the relief requested would be ineffective; and that various exceptions to their declarations accepting the jurisdiction of the Court apply, excluding jurisdiction.

Pakistan withdrew from participation in the oral pleadings at the last minute, declaring it had nothing to add to its written submission.

What will happen next?

The ICJ will issue separate rulings in each case, probably within three to six months. If the Court rules in favor of the RMI, the cases will move to the merits phase and more written arguments and hearings will be scheduled. If the Court rules against the RMI in any case, that case will be over.

What relief is the Marshall Islands seeking?

The RMI is asking the Court to declare that the UK is in violation of its obligations under Article VI of the NPT and customary international law by failing to pursue in good faith negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament, by taking action to qualitatively improve its nuclear weapons system and to maintain and modernize for the indefinite future, and by failing to pursue negotiations that would end nuclear arms racing. The RMI also requests the Court to order the UK to take all steps necessary to comply with its obligations under Article VI of the NPT and under customary international law within one year of the Judgement, including the pursuit of negotiations in good faith aimed at the conclusion of a convention on nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control.

The RMI is asking the Court to declare that India and Pakistan are in violation of their obligations under customary international law, by failing to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament, by failing to pursue negotiations on cessation of the nuclear arms race, and by engaging in the quantitative buildup and qualitative improvement of their nuclear forces to maintain them for the indefinite future, contrary to the objectives of nuclear disarmament and cessation of the nuclear arms race. The RMI also requests the Court to order India and Pakistan to take all steps necessary to comply with its obligations under customary international law with respect to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and nuclear disarmament within one year of the Judgement, including the pursuit of negotiations in good faith aimed at the conclusion of a convention on nuclear disarmament strict and effective international control.

The RMI is not seeking monetary compensation in these cases.

Where can I get more information?

A. General information about the cases is available at: nuclearzero.org. Written submissions by the RMI, UK, India and Pakistan, and verbatim records of the oral pleadings are posted at http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?p1=3&p2=3 Videos and photos from the oral pleadings are posted at www.icj-cij.org/multimedia.

Five years after Fukushima: World Future Council criticises plans for new nuclear power plants

Press release – for immediate release

Hamburg, March 10, 2016: This week marks the five-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake followed by the tsunami and the nuclear meltdown of Fukushima nuclear power plants on March 11th, 2011. On this occasion, the World Future Council (WFC) expresses its solidarity with the people in Japan and the many communities who still have not been able to return to their homes because of the environmental radiation levels near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

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Climate-Nuclear Nexus

“The threats to our planet – of climate change, poverty and war – can only be overcome by nations and the global community working in cooperation – something not possible while nations maintain large and expensive militaries and threaten to destroy each other.” – PNND Co-President’s statement on International Women’s Day for Disarmament, May 24, 2008

The second project is an extensive study of the linkages between climate change and nuclear security conducted for the World Future Council by Disarmament Working Group member Prof. Dr. Jürgen Scheffran of the University of Hamburg. Prof. Dr. Scheffran’s Report Climate Change, Nuclear Risks and Nuclear Disarmament: From Security Threats to Sustainable Peace lays bare the important connections between the two perils, reframes the debate on both issues and offers a comprehensive approach to move from living with these security threats to building sustainable peace. You can download the Report here.

The climate-nuclear nexus manifests itself in a number of ways.

Natural disasters and climate change-induced extreme weather events can have grave implications for nuclear security and safety

The nuclear disaster in Fukushima in March 2011 has drawn attention to the possible effects of extreme weather events, environmental degradation and seismic activity on nuclear security and safety. A number of other recent natural disasters have demonstrated how extreme weather events and environmental degradation can directly cause severe threats for nuclear safety and security.

  • The wildfires that spread through Russia in the summer of 2010 posed a severe nuclear risk to the country when they were on their way to engulf key nuclear sites. In addition, there was widespread concern that radionuclides from land contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster could rise together with combustion particles, resulting in a new pollution zone. Luckily, the authorities managed to contain the fires in time.
  • In Pakistan, the climate-nuclear nexus becomes particularly apparent. Past natural disasters have heightened anxieties about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear sites and military installations. So far, nuclear sites in the extreme weather-prone country have remained safe, yet concern exists about the possible damage from future natural disasters, as well as the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and materials during such events.
  • The events in Japan earlier this year have demonstrated the potential catastrophic consequences of natural disasters for nuclear security. The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit the country on 11 March 2011 caused major damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, disabling the reactor cooling systems and triggering a widespread evacuation surrounding the plant. The nuclear crisis is still unfolding and it will be decades before a comprehensive impact assessment of the disaster can be made.
  • In the UK, leading geologist Prof. Rob Duck of Dundee University has warned that if climate change continues it may lead to the erosion of Britain’s coast and may even cause tsunamis. This in turn will have critical implications for the safety of Britain’s nuclear power stations, all but one of which lie on the coast.

The climatic and ecological consequences of nuclear war

Recent research has revealed that even a limited regional nuclear exchange would eject so much debris into the atmosphere that it could cool down the planet to temperatures not felt since the ice ages (“nuclear winter”) and significantly disrupt the global climate for years to come. Huge fires caused by nuclear explosions, in particular from burning cities, would lift massive amounts of dark smoke and aerosol particles into the upper parts of the atmosphere where the absorption of sunlight would further heat the smoke and lift it into the stratosphere. Here the smoke could persist for years and block out much of the sun’s light from reaching the earth’s surface, causing surface temperatures to drop drastically. This would have disastrous implications for agriculture, and threaten the food supply for most of the planet. It has been estimated that as a result up to one billion people could die from starvation.

Conflicts due to climate change can trigger the use of nuclear weapons

Recently, attention has also been drawn to the severe security risks of global warming. The fear concentrates on how large-scale cascading events in the climate system could lead to international instability. Conflicts due to climate change can trigger the use of nuclear weapons.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that climate change may pose as much of a danger to the world as war. In April 2007, the UN Security Council held its first debate on climate change indicating that global warming has elevated to the top of the international security agenda, rivalling the threat of war. In a 2008 report, the European Commission noted that “[c]limate change is best viewed as a threat multiplier which exacerbates existing trends, tensions and instability. The core challenge is that climate change threatens to overburden states and regions which are already fragile and conflict prone.”

Nuclear weapons represent a particularly worrying element in this volatile equation. International destabilization resulting from climate change could provoke conflicts, which, in turn, could enhance the chance of a nuclear weapon being used, could create more fertile breeding grounds of terrorism, including the nuclear kind, and could feed the ambitions among some states to acquire nuclear arms.

If climate change is a threat multiplier which exacerbates existing trends, tensions and instability, then nuclear weapons are capable of raising the stakes exponentially.

Nuclear energy is no solution to fossil energy dependence and global warming

Nuclear power is fraught with security risks and a variety of other problems. Firstly, radioactive materials are released and accumulated at each stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, while errors and accidents during the generation process further contribute to the threat of radioactive contamination.

Secondly, nuclear power is inextricably linked to nuclear weapons development. So far, about one-third of the countries using nuclear power have built nuclear weapons. At various stages of the nuclear fuel chain, transitions to nuclear weapons technology are possible, contributing to the danger of their worldwide proliferation. A serious problem is the civil-military ambivalence of nuclear technologies and facilities involved in the production and processing of weapons-grade materials. These include uranium enrichment, fuel production and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. Around 20 countries already have access to such technologies. This trend would increase with a further global expansion of nuclear energy.

The global inventory of highly enriched uranium totals around 1600 tons, while the global stockpile of separated plutonium is about 500 tons, divided almost equally between civilian and military stocks. One hundred tons of plutonium is theoretically sufficient for up to 20,000 nuclear warheads. With increasing civilian use, the amount of plutonium also tends to increase. The difficulty in distinguishing between civilian and military nuclear ambitions remains a source for discrimination, threat, mistrust and fear in international relations.

Thirdly, even a drastic increase in nuclear energy could not compensate for the current growth in energy consumption; it would come too late for preventing climate change and lead to an enormous increase in plutonium stocks, with all its aforementioned problems.

Fourthly, although nuclear power has been heavily subsidised by governments and external costs are still not internalised into its market price, nuclear energy is not commercially competitive compared to advanced renewable energies that receive similar financial support. In a comprehensive environmental and economic assessment, including external costs from waste disposal, uranium mining, fuel processing and radioactive emissions during normal operations, most renewable energy sources look better than nuclear energy.

Finally, nuclear waste disposal (whether from nuclear power production, nuclear weapons programs or nuclear disarmament) will remain a problem for thousands of years, and many future generations will have to bear this load without having the short-term “benefit” of the current generation. To decay half of the amount of plutonium 239, which is the primary fissile isotope used for the production of nuclear weapons, it takes around 24000 years or 1000 human generations, much longer than the known history of homo sapiens. After decades of nuclear energy production, the pile of nuclear waste is still growing, even though worldwide not a single site for final disposal of spent fuels is operating and temporary storage is continuously being extended. It is uncertain whether and when a responsible solution to the long-term disposal of radioactive waste can be found.

A century of weapons of mass destruction

At the invitation of the mayor of the town of Ypres, WFC project manager Holger Güssefeld spoke as a representative of the citizens of Hamburg at the conference “A century of weapons of mass destruction: FINAL!”

The Climate-Nuclear Nexus: Two Key Threats Endangering Future Generations

Over the next two weeks, Heads of States are meeting in Paris to finally agree on a plan to curb climate change. Considering that climate change can exacerbate a range of interconnected transnational threats and crises that our generation faces today, such as extreme poverty, hunger, violent conflicts and pandemic disease, meaningful action is urgently needed.

Despite this, the proposed measures are again nowhere near proportional to the problem. In fact, the climate negotiations have so far been subjected to lack of information and misguidance on so-called solutions that should enable us to limit the rise in temperatures to 2°C. One particular problem is that too many of the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) still build on nuclear energy as a way for low-carbon development.

This is extremely problematic given that increased reliance on nuclear energy to reduce carbon emissions will contribute to the risks of nuclear proliferation. In these crucial times, current instabilities and geopolitical tensions are an important dynamic to consider. The increasingly aggressive nuclear threat postures between Russia and NATO in Europe, the rising nuclear tensions between China and US allies in the South China sea, and the excessive expenditures (over US$100 billion annually) on nuclear weapons consume resources required and undermine conditions conducive for tackling climate change in a cooperative manner. Further proliferation of nuclear weapons would make this even worse.

Climate change and the continued existence of nuclear weapons stand out as the two principal threats to the survival of humanity. On the long arc of human existence, both threats are relatively new to the scene, having only appeared over the last century. However, both threaten the survival of life on earth as we know it and both are of our making.

Jonathan Schell said it best: “Anyone concerned by the one should be concerned with the other. It would be a shame to save the Earth from slowly warming only to burn it up in an instant in a nuclear war.”

Nuclear energy is neither required for nor capable of solving the climate crisis. Nuclear energy lacks the capacity potential to significantly replace the huge amounts of fossil energy. In addition, the nuclear ‘fuel chain’ contains a variety of problems and risks, including the release of radioactive materials at every stage of the cycle and trans-generational safety problems from nuclear waste disposal. A very serious problem is the possibility, at various stages of the nuclear fuel chain, to divert nuclear technologies and know-how towards nuclear weapons development.

As the Word Future Council has highlighted in a recent report, climate change and nuclear weapons interact with each other in additional ways. Conflicts induced or exacerbated by climate change could contribute to global insecurity, which, in turn, could enhance the chance of a nuclear weapon being used, could create more fertile breeding grounds for terrorism, including nuclear terrorism, and could feed the ambitions among some states to acquire nuclear arms. Furthermore, as evidenced by a series of incidents in recent years, extreme weather events, environmental degradation and major seismic events can directly impact the safety and security of nuclear installations. Moreover, a nuclear war could lead to a rapid and prolonged drop in average global temperatures and significantly disrupt the global climate for years to come, which would have disastrous implications for agriculture, threatening the food supply for most of the world. Finally, climate change, nuclear weapons and nuclear energy pose threats of intergenerational harm, as evidenced by the transgenerational effects of nuclear testing and nuclear power accidents and the lasting impacts on the climate, environment and public health from carbon emissions.

Overall, the discrepancy between long-term goals and concrete steps undermines the conditions for international cooperation in security and climate policies. Despite growing awareness of the urgency of tackling the climate and nuclear threat among policy-makers, academics and civil society, concrete action is lagging behind.

Why is this so, when considering that renewable energy technologies provide viable alternatives? By harnessing local renewable energy sources, jurisdictions increase their political and energy independency, while the degree of local and international cooperation needed to transition to 100% Renewable Energy can act as a catalyst for cooperation in tackling other transnational security threats. This helps solving geopolitical crises, avoid future armed conflicts triggered by climate instability and resource scarcity, and build cooperative security mechanisms. Similarly, regional initiatives could attempt to tackle both climatic and security threats. For example, Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones (which already cover the entire Southern Hemisphere) can, in turn, promote regional environmental and climate protection policies, as exemplified by the Antarctic Treaty System. Such action could also be sought in the Arctic, where the effects of climate change and the dangers of nuclear weapons come together as increased competition over resources and the opening up of routes for military maneuvering and posturing, including with nuclear weapons, can heighten tensions between the region’s powers.

Finally, there exist international legal obligations both with regard to curbing climate change and achieving universal nuclear disarmament. It is thus not surprising that on both fronts, litigation has been pursued to ensure these obligations are implemented. Climate cases have been filed in several countries, including in the Netherlands, where the Court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, noting that the State has a legal obligation to protect its citizens, ordering the Dutch government to reduce its CO2 emissions by a minimum of 25% (compared to 1990) by 2020. On the nuclear front, the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed applications last year in the International Court of Justice against the nine nuclear-armed states (US, UK, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea), claiming that they are in breach of obligations relating to nuclear disarmament under the NPT and under customary international law. Cases are proceeding against the three of the nuclear-armed states that have accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ–the UK, India, and Pakistan.

For the people of the Marshall Islands, and a rising number of people in other parts of the world, the effects of these two threats are not a theoretical, future issue of concern. Behind the facts and figures are stories of real suffering from climate change and nuclear weapons programmes.

The plight of one group in particular is illustrative of the human impact of the nuclear enterprise and climate change. The inhabitants of the remote Pacific island chain of Bikini Atoll were forced from their homes in the 1940s so that the United States could test its atomic bombs there, bringing with it a legacy of transgenerational effects of radiation exposure, including high cancer rates, birth deformities and environmental poisoning. The lands they had called home were declared uninhabitable. Now, the tiny patches of earth they were relocated to in the Marshall Islands are at risk of suffering the same fate, as rising sea levels are breaching sea walls, washing over their islands, killing crops and forcing the Bikini Atoll refugees to consider relocating again–this time to foreign continents thousands of miles away. As if to underline the potentially catastrophic convergence of both perils, there is even the danger that rising sea levels could spill the radioactive waste from testing, which has been stored on the islands, into the ocean. Their experience should serve as a cautionary tale. If we don’t seize the opportunities soon to rid the world of these threats, we will drift toward a similar fate.

The World Future Council has been highlighting how climate change and nuclear weapons interact with each other through its ‘Climate-Nuclear Nexus’ project. Foreign Minister of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Tony deBrum, received together with the People of the Marshall Islands the Honorary Right Livelihood Award on 30 November for initiating litigation in the International Court of Justice to ensure the nuclear-armed states uphold their disarmament obligations.

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Security without nuclear weapons

Prague: WFC councillor Alyn Ware spoke at this conference on the role of the Czech Republic and Czech legislators in international disarmament processes. The event was hosted by Alena Gajdůšková, First Vice-President of the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, and co-sponsored by the international network of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) and the PragueVision Institute for Sustainable Security.

Nuclear disarmament through inter-parliamentary forums

 

New York: PNND Global Coordinator and Member of the World Future Council, Alyn Ware, presented at this side event, organized by PNND and the WFC, which took place during the NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting at the United Nations headquarters. >>