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. >>

Joint Public Statement on Nuclear Security, 20 March 2014

Nuclear security means one law for all

Statement by World Future Council Members and Right Livelihood Laureates calling on world leaders at the Nuclear Security Summit to take steps to achieve a sustainable global security through the abolition of nuclear weapons and the phase out of nuclear energy

We applaud the fact that the 58 world leaders, 5,000 delegates and 3,000 journalists will come to the Hague March 24-25 for the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in order to address a very real threat to humanity and the environment, now and into the future.

We support the NSS objective of governments, scientists, law-makers and civil society cooperating to ensure that nuclear materials and technology are under safer and more secure control to prevent the possibility of them being used to make a nuclear device – no matter how crude – and then using this device.

However, the world leaders participating in the Summit should take this opportunity to build sustainable global security by adopting common standards for all, committing to the global prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, and beginning a phase-out of nuclear energy.

NSS Secretary-General, Renée Jones-Bos, is correct in quoting U.S. President Obama’s statement from Prague 2009, that “In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up.”

Unfortunately the governments attending appear unwilling to take the necessary steps to prevent with certainty such a catastrophic use of nuclear weapons.

They are focusing on only one small part of the problem – the acquisition of nuclear weapons or fissile materials by non-State actors  – rather than on the larger and more dangerous problems of the possession of over 17,000 nuclear weapons by the nine nuclear armed States, the operational readiness to use many of these weapons within minutes on launch-on-warning policies, the deployment of nuclear weapons to other countries – including the Netherlands where the Summit is taking place, and the continued reliance by some countries on nuclear energy technologies, which fuel nuclear proliferation and create risks of further accidents like those at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

NSS Secretary-General Renée Jones-Bos makes clear the limited focus of the Summit when he says “To be clear, the NSS is not about non-proliferation. It’s about rogue nuclear material. It’s about ensuring that such material does not fall into the wrong hands.”

With regard to nuclear weapons, there are no right hands. The International Court of Justice in The Hague, confirmed in 1996 that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is generally illegal, regardless of who would possess or use such weapons, and that there is an obligation to achieve complete nuclear disarmament.

It’s ironic that this Summit is being held in The Hague, but appears to be ignoring the legal imperative from the highest court in the world situated in the same city. Applying the law against nuclear weapons only to some people (non-State actors) but not to others (State actors) is unsustainable and runs counter to the basis of law, that it should apply equally to all.

We thus support the call from parliamentarians and civil society for world leaders to add nuclear disarmament to the agenda of the Nuclear Security Summits, or to establish a similar high level process to achieve the secure, verified elimination of nuclear weapons.

In addition, the proliferation and environmental risks of nuclear energy can only be eliminated with the phase-out of nuclear energy. Since 1970, countries that have joined the nuclear club have done so through the development first of nuclear energy, and then have used the fissile materials, nuclear technology and know-how from nuclear energy to develop nuclear weapons.

In an age when energy efficiency and safe, sustainable renewable technologies are developing to meet global energy needs, a phase-out of nuclear energy over time is both feasible and imperative.

The World Future Council Members and Right Livelihood Laureates listed below call on governments attending the Nuclear Security Summit to be courageous, honest and responsible and thus raise these issues vital to the safety and security of current and future generations.

Endorsed by:

  • Uri Avnery, founder of Gush Shalom, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2001, Israel
  • Hafsat Abiola-Costello, Member of the World Future Council; Founder of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), Nigeria
  • Dr. h.c. Maude Barlow, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2005; Member of the World Future Council; First Senior Advisor to the UN on water issues; Chairperson of The Council of Canadians, Canada
  • Dipal Chandra Barua, Former Managing Director of the Grameen Shakti (Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2007); Member of the World Future Council; Founder and Chairman of the Bright Green Energy Foundation, Bangladesh
  • Prof. Theo van Boven, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1985, The Netherlands
  • Carmel Budiardjo, Right Livelihood Award Laureate 1995, Co-Founder of Tapol, United Kingdom
  • Marcos Arana Cedeño, Representative of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1998
  • Ana María Cetto, Member of the World Future Council; Research professor of the Institute of Physics and lecturer at the Faculty of Sciences, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico
  • Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2006; Senior Fellow of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, United States of America
  • Dr. Scilla Elworthy, Member of the World Future Council; Founder of the Oxford Research Group and Peace Direct; Director of Programmes for the World Peace Partnership, United Kingdom
  • Prof. Anwar Fazal, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1982; Director of the Right Livelihood College, Malaysia
  • Irene Fernandez, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2005; Founder of Tenaganita, Malaysia
  • Jumanda Gakelebone, Representative of The First People of the Kalahari, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2005, Botswana
  • Daryl Hannah, Member of the World Future Council; Actress and advocate for a sustainable world, United States of America
  • Dr. Hans R. Herren, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2013; Founder of the Biovision Foundation; Winner of the World Food Prize 1995, Switzerland
  • Bianca Jagger, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2004, Founder and Chair of Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation; Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador; International Conservation of Nature Plant a Pledge Ambassador; Member of the Executive Director’s Leadership Council of Amnesty International USA; Trustee, Amazon Charitable Trust, United Kingdom
  • Ewijeong Jeong, Representative of the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ), Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2003, South Korea
  • Dom Erwin Kräutler, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2010; Bishop of Xingu; President of the Indigenous Missionary Council of the Catholic Church in Brazil, Brazil
  • Dr. David Krieger, Member of the World Future Council; Co-Founder and President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, United States of America
  • Dr. med. Katarina Kruhonja, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1998; Founder and Director of the Centre for Peace, Non-violence and Human Rights, Croatia
  • Dr. Ida Kuklina, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1996; Member of the Union of Soldiers Mothers Committees of Russia Coordination Council; Member of the Council of RF President for Development Civic Society and Human Rights, Russia
  • Birsel Lemke, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2000; Founder of HAYIR, Turkey
  • Prof. Alexander Likhotal, Member of the World Future Council; President of Green Cross International, Russia
  • Helen Mack Chang, Right Livelihood Award Laureate 1992, Fundación Myrna Mack, Guatemala
  • Prof. Manfred Max-Neef, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1983; Member of the World Future Council; Director of the Economics Institute, Universidad Austral de Chile, Chile
  • Tapio Mattlar, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1992, Representative of Kylätoiminta, Finland
  • Prof. Raúl A. Montenegro, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2004; Chair of Evolutionary Biology, Faculty of Psychology, National University of Cordoba; President of the Environment Defense Foundation FUNAM, Argentina
  • Pat Mooney, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1985, Executive Director of ETC Group, Canada
  • Dr. Denis Mukwege, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2013; Founder of Panzi Hospital, Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Helena Norberg-Hodge, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1986, Director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture and Initiator of Ladakh Ecological Development Group; United Kingdom
  • Juan Pablo Orrego, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1998; President of Ecosistemas, Chile
  • P. K. Ravindran, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishat, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1996, India
  • Raji Sourani, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2013; Director of the Palestianian Centre for Human Rights, Palestine
  • Prof. David Suzuki, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2009; Co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, Canada
  • Pauline Tangiora, Member of the World Future Council; Maori elder of the Rongomaiwahine Tribe, New Zealand
  • Janos Vargha, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1985; Founder of Duna Kör, Hungary
  • Alyn Ware, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2009; Member of the World Future Council; Founder and international coordinator of the Network Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), New Zealand – Aotearoa
  • Francisco Whitaker Ferreira, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2006; Member of the World Future Council; Co-Founder of the World Social Forum, Brazil
  • Alla Yaroshinskaya, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 1992, Russia
  • Angie Zelter, Right Livelihood Award Recipient 2001; Founder of Trident Ploughshares, United Kingdom


Side Event: “The Humanitarian Imperative and Cooperative Framework to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Free World”

Geneva: Disarmament Coordinator Rob van Riet spoke at a side event of the 130th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly, in a discussion on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear weapons abolition, contributing in particular knowledge of exemplary policies in the field as highlighted by the 2013 Future Policy Award. >>

World Future Council members and RLA laureates denounce limited focus of Nuclear Security Summit

Press release – for immediate release

Stockholm/Hamburg, March 20, 2014 – In a joint statement 38 recipients of the Right Livelihood Award and members of the World Future Council are calling on world leaders at the Nuclear Security Summit to acknowledge that, for nuclear weapons, there are “no right hands”.

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Parliamentary Conference and PNND Annual Assembly

“Climbing the Mountain: Legislators collaborating on bilateral, plurilateral and global measures towards a secure nuclear-weapons-free world.” Disarmament coordinator Rob van Riet joined WFC Councillor Alyn Ware in a discussion of exemplary disarmament policies highlighted by the 2013 Future Policy Award. >>

Nuclear disarmament in the international legal framework

Since the beginning of the Nuclear Age, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament have been officially recognized by all States as critical goals. The United Nations General Assembly’s first ever resolution – adopted on 24 January 1946 – set forth the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and other weapons “adaptable to mass destruction.” In 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which stated the hope that “measures leading towards the goal of general and complete disarmament under effective international control will be worked out in detail and agreed upon in the shortest possible time.” At its first Special Session on Disarmament in 1978, the General Assembly declared “general and complete disarmament” the international community’s “ultimate objective,” and proclaimed nuclear disarmament its “highest priority.”

Article VI of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) affirms that all States Parties should undertake “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.”

In its 1996 landmark Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, the International Court of Justice (ICJ)—the UN’s highest judicial authority—interpreted this article as entailing “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.”

Following up on the ICJ Opinion, the UN General Assembly has adopted every year beginning in 1996 a resolution calling upon all States immediately to fulfill the disarmament obligation unanimously affirmed by the ICJ by commencing multilateral negotiations “leading to an early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention prohibiting the development, production, testing, deployment, stockpiling, transfer, threat or use of nuclear weapons and providing for their elimination.” In 2010, the resolution was adopted by a vote of 133 to 28, with 23 abstentions, the most support hitherto.

Similarly, the 2000 UN General Assembly Resolution, Towards a Nuclear Weapon-Free World: The Need for a New Agenda, “calls upon the Nuclear-Weapon States to make an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the speedy and total elimination of their nuclear arsenals and to engage without delay in an accelerated process of negotiations, thus achieving nuclear disarmament, to which they are committed under article VI of the NPT.” It received overwhelming support with 154 in favor (including China, the United Kingdom and the United States), 3 against, and 8 abstentions.

The commitment to nuclear disarmament has been echoed in numerous other UN resolutions and international treaties. It has also been reiterated in the consensus final documents of NPT Review Conferences, including quite forcefully in the most recent one. Even the UN Security Council—which counts the recognized Nuclear Weapon States under the NPT as its permanent members—adopted in 2009 a Resolution, which calls upon all States to undertake in good faith negotiations on nuclear disarmament, and invites non NPT-parties to “join the endeavor.”

Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons

Senate of France: Coordinator of the Peace and Disarmament Programme, Rob van Riet discussed the application of International Humanitarian Law to Nuclear Weapons and how it could give impetus to efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

Treaty of Tlatelolco Wins Future Policy Award

Latin American and Caribbean Nuclear Weapons Free Zone takes top disarmament award – Argentina and New Zealand win silver

Hamburg/Geneva/New York – 23 October 2013: The “Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean” (a.k.a. the “Treaty of Tlatelolco”) was today proclaimed winner of the 2013 Future Policy Award for sustainable disarmament, beating 24 other nominated policies to the prize. The award will be presented at a ceremony this evening at UN Headquarters by the World Future Council, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

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