Ep 414: Karl Hausker - Senior Fellow, World Resources Institute
View Karl's referenced slideshow here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/10sfl8oUa2taNpEap4Qojur3FwkB5ylNm/view?usp=sharing
Phoebe Lind [00:00:58] Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of your favorite nuclear energy podcast, Titans of Nuclear. My name is Phoebe Lind. I am here with our esteemed guest today, Karl Hausker. He is a Senior Fellow of the Climate Program at World Resources Institute, and we're thrilled to have him on today.
Phoebe Lind [00:01:15] We do want to note before we jump into our interview that Karl's interview today will reference slides that are linked in the show notes, so if listeners want to follow along, you may do that by clicking the link in the show notes. At times, Carl might mention specific graphs or specific charts that may provide additional insight into the research that we'll be discussing today, so we do recommend checking those out. If not, we'll make sure to describe whatever it is we're talking about along the way so you'll be able to keep up. Karl, welcome to the podcast.
Karl Hausker [00:01:46] Thanks so much, Phoebe.
Phoebe Lind [00:01:48] Would you mind kicking us off by providing a brief overview of who you are and what you do? What brings you to Titans of Nuclear?
Karl Hausker [00:01:55] Yes, absolutely. I've been working on climate change for 30-plus years from various positions on Capitol Hill with the Senate Energy Committee, working for EPA under President Clinton, and at consulting firms and research institutes like the World Resources Institute. So, I have quite a history and have followed the IPCC reports carefully over those years. That's the key topic we're going to talk about today. And I have a real passion for this issue because it really is the mother of all environmental problems, and we have a lot of work ahead of us.
Phoebe Lind [00:02:39] Yeah, absolutely. I can agree with that. So, today you are an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the IPCC as we call it. Would you mind providing a little bit of a background on what the IPCC is, what the reports are, and what inspired you to get into this work?
Karl Hausker [00:03:00] Yes, thanks. The IPCC is a UN body that serves the Framework Convention on Climate Change and conducts periodic assessments of the science, the impacts of climate change, and mitigation strategies to preserve a safe climate. It conducts assessment reports roughly every eight years or so, and this year it completed the sixth assessment report. It is a gargantuan, multi-year effort. It is largely done by volunteer scientists and other experts with a small central staff at the IPCC. It synthesizes and summarizes the body of work.
Karl Hausker [00:03:49] So, the IPCC actually doesn't conduct original research itself, but it conducts a massive literature survey and synthesis, again, over those three basic topics: science, impacts, and mitigation. And as you said, I was honored to serve as an expert reviewer on the Mitigation Report and on the Synthesis Report. And I could explain a little bit more the different pieces of an assessment report, if you like.
Phoebe Lind [00:04:23] Sure, we can get into that. I think for some context for our listeners as well, a lot of folks might have heard of the IPCC and these assessment reports, especially the sixth assessment report. It seems that they get more and more drastic every iteration that comes out, but that is the reality that we're dealing with. As a lot of folks might be aware, a very widely-adopted climate goal that we now have is to keep global average temperatures from rising from either 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius, because those are two very critical points at which irreparable damage occurs to Earth's natural and human systems. So just for context, people might have heard about it in the news and other reports. Again, this gargantuan report, as you put it.
Karl Hausker [00:05:14] Yeah, so each assessment report consists of three work group reports. As I said, science, impacts, and then mitigation strategies. And then at the very end of the process, there is a synthesis report that attempts to tie all three together. So each work group report is typically 2,000 to 3,000 pages long, and each of them contains a summary for policymakers. I'll use that acronym "SPM" frequently here, a "summary for policymakers."
Karl Hausker [00:05:51] You can think of an IPCC report, actually, as a three layer cake. 2,000 to 3,000 pages of credible, in-depth review, and then there's typically a technical summary written by the scientists and other experts for each, which is typically maybe 100 or so pages, and then an SPM summary for policymakers of 30 to 50 pages. And then a synthesis report; this last one, released in March of this year tries to pull it all together in about 80 to 100 pages.
Karl Hausker [00:06:28] You can imagine that writing a SPM or a synthesis report is extremely difficult to try to boil down the essence of all those. But these are really important because often they're the only document that a policymaker or a stakeholder or a journalist would read. So, it's important that they're they're accurate in terms of summarizing the findings.
Karl Hausker [00:06:52] The other thing that makes it particularly difficult is that an SPM and the synthesis report is actually finely edited, added, subtracted to by 192 nations who are part of the FCCC and the IPCC. So, there is some... Ultimately, they become political documents because of that, the government representatives sitting down and writing that.
Karl Hausker [00:07:27] So over the years, one can occasionally find a divergence of what an SPM says from the underlying report. And that happened, unfortunately, this time too. And this is why I'm offering you and other audiences a deep dive, because in my experience as an expert reviewer I found some significant divergences of the SPM from the underlying report on mitigation strategies.
Phoebe Lind [00:08:02] How many people do you think actually get to that full report, like the bottom layer of the tiered cake that you mentioned?
Karl Hausker [00:08:11] That is a very good question. I don't have a good feel for that other than to say it's probably a pretty small number. The expert reviewers such as myself and then probably a series of researchers will go into particular pieces of it to figure out what the IPCC said in detail about a certain topic.
Phoebe Lind [00:08:34] So, you're responsible for a very small section of that report? How much of the report were you an expert reviewer on?
Karl Hausker [00:08:43] Right. I zeroed in on the areas of sort of greatest interest and where I brought expertise, which is on energy systems in general, and particularly the electricity system. I also have a pretty good background in transportation. Other parts of the Mitigation Report that dealt with non-CO2 gases, I don't bring much expertise there or to land use and the sequestration of carbon in forests and soils. I sort of skimmed through those sections but didn't have a lot of comments, again, because I did not feel I had a lot of expertise there.
Phoebe Lind [00:09:25] And this research that you're presenting today, is this research that you also presented to the IPCC as a part of your expert review, or is this research a separate venture of yours?
Karl Hausker [00:09:37] It's a separate venture. In my role as reviewer, I submitted comments on two drafts of the documents, the Mitigation Report, and then the Synthesis Report as it went in then to file a government review. They sit down for two weeks, nations around a table, and then they finalize it. When I looked at the final versions compared to some of the earlier drafts and compared the SPM to the full report, I collected all these observations and reflections on these divergences. They particularly have an impact on how the role of nuclear generation is portrayed in the mitigation strategies, and hence, that has led me to various audiences like you and the Titans of Nuclear.
Phoebe Lind [00:10:29] Okay, so our understanding now... We have a very large report. It gets boiled down to a very small report, and then almost 200 countries with very different goals and very different agendas have to agree on what goes into that report.
Karl Hausker [00:10:43] Exactly.
Phoebe Lind [00:10:45] And that report is the one that policymakers all around the world who may or may not have had influence on that report, that's what they read and that's what directly affects the decisions that they make on climate action.
Karl Hausker [00:10:58] Right.
Phoebe Lind [00:10:58] What did the IPCC find regarding the emission pathways that we need to get to to limit climate change?
Karl Hausker [00:11:07] Let me make one more preface comment as I go into and answer your question to help listeners and readers. The IPCC examined somewhere over 500 studies and modeling exercises in the literature that could keep warming to 1.5 or 2.0 degrees. And within those 500 and some of the data I'm going to describe, they take sort of a statistical approach to the results of those 500 studies. They all have a forecast of what temperature a certain pathway for the global economy would achieve. They have certain levels of, say, solar deployment or carbon capture, certain levels of methane gas release, certain levels of nuclear deployment. And what I'll refer to is sometimes they will talk about a median value for one of those indicators, "What does this scenario look like?" And they often also give what's called the interquartile range of that indicator from a 25th percentile to a 75th percentile. And so, I'll be talking a little bit in those terms of median values for some of these scenarios, interquartile ranges.
Karl Hausker [00:12:28] So with that underway, we can jump into discussing what do these mitigation strategies look like that could keep us in the 1.5 or 2.0 degree range? And I'm going to refer to the first slide that you're going to post here, which is called "Emission Scenarios and Illustrative Mitigation Pathways." And this is from the SPM Figure 5A and 5B.
Karl Hausker [00:12:58] Some of you have probably seen the steep trajectories we need to get on for both the aggregate of all global greenhouse gases as well as CO2 in particular. The IPCC modeling in these 500 scenarios indicate that we will have to reduce our net global GHG emissions to approximately zero by mid to late in this century, typically by the 2070s, 2080s. And on the graph, you'll see this sort of band of purple and bluish striped envelope that contains all those 500 scenarios. And within them, the IPCC has called out what they call "illustrative mitigation pathways." You'll see like a solid line and a dotted line up charting a particular scenario for the decrease in those gases.
Karl Hausker [00:13:55] When you look at CO2 emissions, which is the right hand side of the graph I was just referring to, you'll see that the decrease we need in CO2 emissions is even steeper than overall greenhouse gases. And that's because, number one, the reductions of CO2 emissions tend to be easier than reducing a lot of the methane emissions, nitrous oxide emissions, and other trace industrial gases. But also, it's hard to take those non-CO2 gases all the way to zero. We really just don't know how to do it. But we know ways in which we can reduce our CO2 emissions all the way to zero or even go to a negative net CO2 emission pathway by taking CO2 out of the atmosphere by biological means: forests and increased storage and soils, and increasingly, developing technological ways to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere, such as direct air capture and storage, bioenergy combustion with carbon capture, enhanced mineralization and other things under way.
Karl Hausker [00:15:12] So you'll see on the right hand side of that graph that by mid-century we need to take CO2 emissions all the way to zero and then begin to go into a net negative CO2 mode later in the century to offset the non-CO2 gases, because we can't take them to zero. We also need to go heavy negative if we overshoot a temperature goal and need to pull CO2 back out of the atmosphere. So, this is the first way in which the SPM depicts, "What do we need to do?" It's the total emissions of gases.
Karl Hausker [00:15:47] And then we can turn next to, "Well, how the heck do you get there? What needs to happen to get to a net zero CO2 emissions system or even negative?" And the SPM is very clear in describing qualitatively how we do this. Number one, we need to increase energy efficiency and conservation, take our energy needs down as low as possible. Then, we need to move to a pure zero-carbon electricity generation system across the globe. We need to produce huge amounts of zero-carbon electricity, and the good news is we actually have lots of ways to do that. We have solar, we have wind, geothermal, hydro, nuclear, and increasingly, we can burn fossil fuels with nearly 100% capture of the CO2 emissions. And I particularly encourage people to look into what's called the Allam cycle, which is very promising on that front.
Phoebe Lind [00:16:52] Is that actually used very often? Can you explain a little bit more about how that might have been implemented already? I think a lot of people are familiar with why solar, wind for zero emissions. How do you get fossil fuels to zero emissions?
Karl Hausker [00:17:13] Some of the early demonstrations of carbon capture on an industrial plant or electric power plant have shown ranges of capture from 60% to 80% to 90%, maybe up to 95%. And that's all good for really decreasing the emissions from those sources. There's a particular technology called the Allam cycle, which is in its first prototypes beginning to move to full commercial deployment. And what this does is instead of having an end-of-the-pipe capture of CO2 and separating it from the other exhaust elements, on the front end, it separates air into nitrogen and oxygen and then burns, say, natural gas in a pure stream of oxygen. So on the other end, you have a pure CO2 stream that you can immediately concentrate, compress, and pump underground. So, companies developing this can get close to 100% capture. Very promising, one of the many technologies we should be developing to make sure we have a broad portfolio to attack this problem.
Phoebe Lind [00:18:30] Okay, interesting. Yeah, I hadn't heard of that technology before. I can be a little bit skeptical of fossil fuel interests. I am very passionate about nuclear energy; I also think there's a place for renewables in a lot of these cases. But aside from implementing all of these carbon-reducing technologies, do you think reducing carbon dioxide and all of these other greenhouse gases on such a steep level is achievable? How do we even start going about that?
Karl Hausker [00:19:02] It is a daunting task, but we have many of the technologies already developed. We have a lot of things ready to move into commercial scale. We need to have some breakthroughs, I think, in things like long-duration electricity storage. We need to fully commercialize a number of the very promising nuclear designs that you're aware of. And we also need to, I think, have some breakthroughs in ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere cheaply. Right now, they're quite expensive on the technological side.
Karl Hausker [00:19:39] But let me go back to those six key tasks in getting to that net zero CO2 energy system. I mentioned efficiency and conservation, producing tons of zero carbon electricity. And then what we do with that is we electrify as many end uses across the economy as possible. We electrify our space heating and our water heating in our buildings. We electrify transportation to the greatest extent possible, which we're in the process of with EVs. And then in industry, we can produce a lot of the heat needs of industry with electricity, but not all of them.
Karl Hausker [00:20:20] And so, that takes us to the fourth task. Where we can't electrify an end use, there are many places where we can use a low-carbon or a zero-carbon fuel produced by electricity. We can produce hydrogen by electrolysis. And by mid-century, we'll probably be producing a lot of our hydrogen with electrolysis. We'll also need some sustainable biofuels in some quantities, again, for those end uses that we can't electrify. They might be aviation, heavy industry, some heavy-duty transportation.
Karl Hausker [00:20:55] The fifth strategy is then to minimize the use of those fossil fuels where can't electrify them, deploy some carbon capture wherever it's feasible. And then finally, the sixth step is to use carbon dioxide removal technologies and practices to counterbalance whatever remaining emissions exist in the system, either from CO2, from burning fossil fuels, or to counterbalance those non-CO2 gases I mentioned. So if we take all these six steps which we can envision... We have a lot of technologies already, in some we still need to develop things. Zero-carbon electricity becomes the main workhorse of the economy, replacing the combustion of fossil fuels. Now, supplementing, again, with some bioenergy, some carbon capture. So in the briefest way, that's what we need to do and that's what the SPM of the Mitigation Report tells us to do.
Karl Hausker [00:22:01] Here's where the SPM goes next on this, and this is so fascinating as I saw the final version. It gives us very detailed quantitative results on how fast coal and oil and gas need to decrease. For instance, to stay to 1.5 degrees, we would have to knock coal down about 95% by 2050. Oil by 60%, natural gas by 45%. And the SPM gives us all this detail about the interquartile ranges, it even tells us the 5th through 95th percentile ranges spelled out there. Actually, more data than you want in an SPM on the details of 1.5 and 2.0 degree scenarios. And that's all good, but from there I sort of expected it to say like, "Well, what fills the gap? What do we bring in as we're phasing down all the coal and oil and gas?"
Phoebe Lind [00:23:03] Speaking from my own personal interests here, that is a lot of push back. I think we need rapid climate action, and a lot of folks are really pushing for renewables, but the one problem that we have there is that there are certain cases where renewables will not fill all of those gaps. We love nuclear because it can provide that firm baseload power. But you're saying that the SPM doesn't provide any suggestions for how to fill that gap from reducing oil and carbon? What does it say instead?
Karl Hausker [00:23:33] Well, the funny thing about it is that it doesn't clearly tell you what fills the gap. Instead, where the SPM goes next is a slide that your listeners can look at called "Sectoral Contributions to a Net Zero GHG." And what you'll see when you look at this... It's Figure SPM 5F in the report. It breaks down the percentage contribution of buildings, industry, transport to reducing emissions from current levels all the way down to zero. And then it gives you also what the enhanced forestry techniques, land use techniques, with that wonderful acronym of "LULUCF," land use, land-use change, and forestry, and reduction of the non-CO2 gases. So you have a nice figure that says, "Okay, LULUCF and non-CO2 gases can contribute about 26% of getting all the way to zero, and buildings, industry, and transport can contribute about 74% of that needed GHG when you look at the median values of all these 500 scenarios." But you're left scratching your head saying, "That's the energy system. That's the energy system that feeds buildings and industry and transport. So, what's next?"
Karl Hausker [00:24:58] What the SPM does, it throws a few more numbers out, quantitative results on methane reductions, percentage reductions, industry, buildings, transportation, some practices, some cumulative gigatons of carbon dioxide removal needed, what demand-side options can do. But the SPM doesn't describe either in figures or in text what does the energy system look like in 2030? What does it look like in 2050? What happens to the total demand for primary energy? How successful are efficiency and conservation strategies? What are the energy supplies that replace coal and oil and gas? To do that, you actually have to leave the SPM. You have to go to the full report.
Karl Hausker [00:25:47] Fortunately, early in the full report there is the Technical Summary document that has a key table. And this is the next slide that you'll see in the posting. Table TS.2 of the Technical Summary gives all these really key global indicators on what needs to happen for 1.5 or 2.0 degree scenarios. It tells you for 2030 and 2050. And a lot of these numbers were pulled right into the SPM, but not the numbers on what sources replace oil and gas and coal. So, this very detailed table...
Karl Hausker [00:26:24] My next slide zooms in and viewers will see how it has how primary energy from coal decreases, how primary energy from oil decreases. And there's your 95% number, your 60% number, your 45% number for gas. And how it's slower in the 2.0 degrees scenarios, faster in the 1.5 degrees scenarios, faster for carbon-intense fuel like coal, somewhat slower for the least carbon-intensive fuel, natural gas. So, that's where these numbers came from. Great.
Karl Hausker [00:26:56] But finally, when you scroll down on the next slide I have labeled, "Which Energy Sources Increase," finally here we get an idea. And starting at the bottom of these couple rows of tables, we see that renewables, what they call the non-biomass renewables, solar, wind, and hydro, they have to grow tremendously by 2050: over 700% beyond current levels to hit 1.5. And then, the next series of rows for 2050 is modern biomass. The dedicated crops and modern technologies to squeeze gaseous and liquid fuels out of biomass has to increase nearly 300% by 2050.
Karl Hausker [00:27:41] And then finally, and of interest to your viewers, I'm sure, is the role of nuclear in these mitigation scenarios. By 2050, these mitigation scenarios indicate that in a median value, nuclear has to nearly double: an increase of 90% over current levels with a large interquartile range from 15% all the way to nearly 300%. Again, big ranges on the whole that nuclear may need to fill as coal, oil, and gas are decreased. It also shows a 40% rise by 2030 on a median value basis. So this is finally getting us to understand what kind of changes in the energy system are needed that then feed that energy into buildings and transport and industry and elsewhere.
Phoebe Lind [00:28:33] Just to emphasize just how dramatic of a change this would be, I think a lot of folks are aware we need a lot more renewables, we need more nuclear. Energy efficiency can only get us so far in reducing our energy demand, but there are still people all around the world in developing countries who need more energy in order to advance. That said, this is requiring a 725% increase in renewables to keep global warming from increasing 1.5 degrees Celsius. That's a massive change.
Karl Hausker [00:29:10] That is a massive change. The scale-up, whether it's renewables or biomass or nuclear; they're all challenging. They will all have certain technical obstacles. We'll see how the economics play out. And also, there may be political obstacles to any of these, which again is why I think it's so important to have a portfolio ready because we cannot predict how this is going to play out. We can't choose, "Oh, I like this scenario, so we will do that scenario." I think that's a completely misguided way to think about this.
Phoebe Lind [00:29:44] Do you have any idea as to how these specific percentages came about? Why is it nuclear, 200%, so that renewables only have to increase 500%, for instance. Are those adjustable at all, those specific percentages?
Karl Hausker [00:30:00] Yeah, individual scenarios will carry a range. And I'll actually use that question you just asked to turn to the electricity generation mix. We just established electricity is absolutely key. And the tables I just described talk about primary energy in exajoules across both electricity and other forms of energy. But now, pertinent to your question... How you do an electricity generation mix that keeps the lights on, is reliable and affordable and zero-carbon, that is absolutely critical. And yet, the SPM has no depiction of the electricity generation mix of the future. What you have to do is go way into Chapter 6, into Figure 6.30 to finally find a depiction of what these 500 scenarios look like in terms of the electricity generation mix.
Karl Hausker [00:31:00] And so, your viewers and listeners will see a slide on this that shows the role of solar and wind measured together, how much electricity we get from that. How much from CCS applied to fossil systems, as well as bioenergy. And finally, how much do we get from nuclear? This key figure in Chapter 6 shows solar and wind, sort of the variable renewable sources, as currently at about a little less than 10% of global generation, and it shows on a median value it growing to 40%, 50%, perhaps 60% by 2050, staying in a range of about 55% to 70% in that interquartile range. And this is kind of a mainstream conclusion that the good news is the price of solar and wind has dropped a lot. Many people expect it could become a mainstay of the power system, but it needs to be complemented by clean, firm sources.
Karl Hausker [00:32:03] So, the other two parts of this figure show CCS in the middle almost at 0% of the current generation mix, but growing to be maybe 5% or 10% of total generation by 2050, gradually building, but with huge ranges, maybe from 5% to 25%. And then finally, the right hand side of this figure shows the role of nuclear generation. It's currently already supplying 10% of the world's total electricity on a firm, zero-carbon basis. And the 500 scenarios show it either hovering at about 10% into the future or growing maybe to as much as 20% or more. And it's kind of interesting...
Phoebe Lind [00:32:51] Just to comment on some of these graphs as we're looking at them... Some of them appear that their ranges even drop it down to below 5%.
Karl Hausker [00:32:59] Yes, some people run models, and depending on what they assume about either political constraints on nuclear or cost assumptions or how much they assume renewables will continue to drop and maybe battery storage comes in, you can have a scenario where as a percentage, nuclear may drop. However, what's really important to think about is... Going back to the six tasks for a zero-carbon system, electricity production has to soar. And for a 1.5 degree world or 2.0 world, we need to at least double total electricity generation by 2050. Some scenarios have it going even higher, maybe tripling. So even if nuclear generation were to keep a 10% share on percentage basis, it has to double by 2050 to maintain that role.
Karl Hausker [00:33:58] So when you look at Figures 6.30 as a whole, what you see is sort of support for a mainstream conclusion. Solar and wind can grow a lot, but they need to be complemented by nuclear and CCS as clean, firm sources that keep the lights on both a daily basis and a seasonal basis when the solar and wind production goes down or cover for what my favorite word in this field is: the dunkelflaute. The Germans, of course, they invent long nouns for everything. And every winter, there is a period of very low solar and wind output that can last seven, ten, fourteen or more days when Germany has to turn to something else during the dunkelflaute. So this is a reason why it's very hard to envision a 100% renewable system driven by solar and wind. You do need to complement it with clean, firm. And that's another major theme that doesn't appear in the SPM, but does appear in Chapter 6 here.
Phoebe Lind [00:35:14] So, do you have any idea what Germany will be doing now that they just took a bunch of nuclear offline? But they're still going to have the dunkelflaute.
Karl Hausker [00:35:26] Yeah, right now they turn on their coal and their gas plants when the dunkelflaute comes. Increasingly, they will say, "Okay, we're going to have green hydrogen in the future to back this up. We'll have more transmission ties to other areas, et cetera." But it's a daunting task.
Phoebe Lind [00:35:44] Yet in 2023, we still don't have all of those sources to fulfill that yet.
Karl Hausker [00:35:49] Yeah.
Phoebe Lind [00:35:51] If only there was nuclear. Who would've thought?
Karl Hausker [00:35:58] Let me come to a final point about the SPM that I find really troubling. What I've described so far is, as you've heard, is how the SPM doesn't really specify much about what replaces coal and oil and gas. It talks about sectoral changes. I've documented through these two figures that nuclear continues to play a key role in nearly all of the mitigation scenarios. But what happened is in the final editing of the SPM by the governments around a table is they kind of erased nearly every reference to nuclear. So what you'll find if you read the full report and the technical summary and deep in Chapter 3 and Chapter 6 is that nuclear appears on a short list of three or four low or no-carbon technologies. And I'll post a slide here that zeroes right in on this that says nearly all electricity will come from sources like nuclear, biomass, non-biomass renewables, and fossil fuels with CCS. Those are like the four sources that continually appear through the full report.
Karl Hausker [00:37:13] But when you get to the SPM and you look for the parallel language, it says almost all electricity is supplied from non-zero, from zero low-carbon sources such as renewables or fossil fuels with CCS. So suddenly, when the list of four gets down to two, they pull it out. Nuclear makes a little cameo appearance in a long laundry list of options in Figure SPM 7, which I'm also happy to post. And there's one other... If you do a word search for it, it appears one other time. It's sort of a negative reference where the SPM says that nuclear has a high upfront cost, and that's why it's not deploying or growing very fast.
Phoebe Lind [00:37:56] So in the summary document, the word nuclear only appears twice? Wow.
Karl Hausker [00:38:03] Twice, yeah. So given the substantial role nuclear plays in the mitigation scenarios, why is it barely mentioned? And you can even go back to the 2018 Special 1.5 Degrees Report. The SPM mentions nuclear explicitly and says it plays a role. You can go back to the last assessment report, the Fifth Assessment Report in 2014, and in the SPM you will see explicit mention that nuclear is one of these low-carbon, zero-carbon technologies that plays a role.
Karl Hausker [00:38:33] So in contrast, what happened here? The best I can discern from talks with people involved and also some journalistic coverage of those negotiations is that some countries objected to nuclear being talked about explicitly in the SPM. And I find that unfortunate. And I find it kind of disturbing because that omission, in my view, distorts the message of the full Work Group III Report.
Phoebe Lind [00:39:05] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's intriguing as well just because from a young person's perspective, I feel like nuclear energy has gotten more popular in recent years as people realize how critical it is to decarbonize and the fact that we're going to need a lot of different technologies at play. And just not only that nuclear plays a role, but that it will need to play a critical role in order to provide this gap in energy as we reduce our emissions from reducing our use of oil and gas. So, you said it's a couple of countries. What other kinds of factors might influence the decision to keep nuclear out of this most recent SPM when it was included just a few years ago?
Karl Hausker [00:39:51] I don't know for a fact. I can only speculate because it's not spelled it out. But I think the intense opposition of a handful of countries to nuclear power carried the day in these back-and-forth negotiations and sort of the flavor and the spin that governments wanted to put on the SPM.
Karl Hausker [00:40:14] I also want to react to what you just said about increasing support for nuclear power in recent years. I think that's a very good, accurate observation. I have observed in the US among environmental groups in general, several have moved toward being less opposed and even positively supportive of nuclear power. As they see the slow progress toward reducing and slowing the growth of emissions, they are sort of reexamining how important nuclear is to solve this problem. And I think we also saw a significant impact from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where a number of countries realized that they need to pay more attention to energy security as well as climate change. And those two together have spurred a number of countries to begin making plans for further expansion of nuclear in the wake of that invasion.
Karl Hausker [00:41:23] The final thing I might note is that when you look at the long-term strategies that countries submit to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, you will find that a lot of countries do have maintenance and expansion of nuclear power in their long-term strategies out to 2050. And you look at the number of G7 countries that do that, the biggest economies in the world... You look at the G20 countries, the 20 biggest economies of the world that are responsible for the lion's share of emissions, you will see nuclear in their plans. And so, this is also a very important sign that this is where governments and the private sector are heading. And I think it's putting one's head in the sand to say that, "No, no, there's no role for nuclear in solving climate change."
Phoebe Lind [00:42:19] Well, it doesn't say that there's no role, it just omits it from this report, right? But it's not necessarily antagonistic.
Karl Hausker [00:42:26] Right. To put a fine point on it, yes. What happens in the SPM of Work Group III is an omission, not saying nuclear is not part of the solution. That omission in my mind carries a risk of policymakers, stakeholders, journalists not understanding that it is part of the mix. And that also just prompted me to remember the final footnote on this. I've been talking about the SPM of Work Group III on Mitigation. I also mentioned at the outset that there is a synthesis report that came out, again in March 2023, that tries to tie together and summarize the science, the impacts, and the mitigation strategies. And I'm sad to report that the Synthesis Report carried the same omissions as the Work Group III SPM. You will find virtually no reference to nuclear in the Synthesis Report either.
Phoebe Lind [00:43:30] That's fascinating to just think about, especially because it's supposed to reflect the science. It should be objective. Does that go through the same procedure that the SPM does where all member nations need to agree on that one?
Karl Hausker [00:43:44] Yes, the nations have to edit and sign off on the final Synthesis Report.
Phoebe Lind [00:43:51] So, what other checks and balances exist here that might try to correct that problem? It still seems shocking to me that maybe only a small handful of countries would object to nuclear, but they couldn't be... There's nobody else in that group who are saying, "No, no, no, this is absolutely necessary to include." Is there anybody there who does exist and then they just failed at their job this time?
Karl Hausker [00:44:20] I don't have a clear window into what happened. Again, I have secondhand accounts, but each government has probably a sort of priority list of things that they want to stay in, that must stay in or it must come out given their views on this. And there were not enough countries championing the inclusion of nuclear as it had been in previous IPCC reports, hence it fell out. This dynamic plays out even in things like the science and impacts and how... Like, when scientists try to write the history of GHG emissions... Well, particularly developing countries will want an emphasis on how the industrialized countries are more responsible for the historic emissions. So that's a flavor of what otherwise would be scientific language.
Phoebe Lind [00:45:25] At this point, it's almost more like it's just a result of who has the best negotiation tactics at these conversations rather than what science says we actually need in order to solve climate change.
Karl Hausker [00:45:38] I think it comes out as a strange mixture of those. But I want to emphasize also that the full report and the Technical Summary particularly, which I would direct a lot of people to... It's only 100 pages; it's not 2,000 pages. That is not influenced by political forces, and the authors, the scientists, and the other experts do a fantastic job on synthesizing the body of knowledge, the body of literature out there. And I really think they did a fantastic job on that. It's just when we come to trying to summarize it with government representatives bargaining around the table, we start to lose important information, important findings.
Phoebe Lind [00:46:26] It's sad to say, but it makes sense because a lot of times you see this case also when you're translating scientific reports to like what you're seeing in the news as well. You lose a lot of the nuance; you might have a story that's a little more sensationalized, and that's how it's communicated to the general public or to policymakers in this instance.
Phoebe Lind [00:46:48] So in a few words, what do you think we can do to solve this problem of misinformation, almost? People aren't getting all the info they need from the SPM. So, pointing people to the Technical Report, that's one way. And that's kind of your campaign now, yes?
Karl Hausker [00:47:08] That's a role I'm taking on to try to make sure people understand what is missing from the SPM. And what we can do is... The slides that you're going to post that I've shared with a variety of organizations and stakeholders and briefing governments where able... It provides easy windows into the Technical Summary, into Chapter 3, into Chapter 6, to find what is the role of CCS, what is the role of nuclear? What happens to primary energy demand?
Karl Hausker [00:47:46] I'll put one more spin that I didn't cover on this. Some of the scenarios have primary energy demand dropping so fast by 2030, that it just strains credibility. We want all these demand-side strategies to succeed, but again, if you sort of start to put your eggs in that basket of massive decreases just seven years from now, it's probably not going to play out; you better have a backup plan. And I think it's also incumbent on people, as there will be more IPCC reports... They're already starting to plan the seventh assessment. I think people should ask for more transparency, more clarity from governments to say... Like, if you object to something, maybe that can be noted in an SPM, but to pull stuff completely out that's an important finding, that borders on distortion.
Phoebe Lind [00:49:00] I'm thinking about what that might look where it's more transparent. Can you imagine in a future version of this report where there's like a little asterisk at the bottom saying, "This particular energy source was not included because this country and this country did not want it to be included." Like, that would absolutely transform that process.
Karl Hausker [00:49:20] Let me give an example that could be perhaps modeled somewhat by the IPCC. There was recently a G7 communique, a communique from the G7 nations on a variety of topics, but including climate and energy, and it had a section on nuclear. And one of the first sentences of that section of the communique sort of said, "For those nations who are going to deploy nuclear..." then it had a number of consensus points. Not among the full G7, but among those that are deploying nuclear. And so, I think you could say something parallel in IPCC reports.
Karl Hausker [00:50:07] When you come to the SPM, if there are some topics that governments want to distance themselves from, there's language that you could adopt. It goes throughout. The mitigation strategies aggregate a whole bunch of data and indicators across the globe, but regions and countries are going to be different. Some countries don't have hydro, so they're not deploying hydro. Some countries will not have access to rich sources of bioenergy. Some will choose not to deploy nuclear. It's not like an IPCC report is saying, "Each country must do this." We know that the energy mix is going to vary by country, but let's not bury findings that are important from a global perspective because one country doesn't like that energy source.
Phoebe Lind [00:51:08] It's interesting to think about, yeah. Thank you so much for providing this insight. It's definitely... I don't think a lot of people actually understand the thought process and the decision making that goes into these reports and how this information is synthesized and how that's communicated to people. Do you have any final thoughts on this issue? What do you want people to walk away with having this information now?
Karl Hausker [00:51:33] I guess I would sum up or sort of reiterate my portfolio point on how we need lots of options because we're not sure how far we can go with any particular option. There are some activists in the climate community who care deeply about climate change, as I do, who see the risks of nuclear power as too great, so we shouldn't use it and we should phase it out as quickly as possible. Some also believe we should not deploy carbon capture either as a way to reduce emissions or deploy carbon capture to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. They make arguments about moral hazard, "If we do that, it will just be an excuse to keep burning fossil fuels." On that latter argument, I don't think human beings will be stupid enough to just keep burning fossil fuels if we commercialize carbon capture. The moral hazard argument, I don't believe should stop us from developing that tool in the toolbox.
Karl Hausker [00:52:41] A lot of people who care deeply about climate change understand that we are going to need all the tools in the toolbox and that we need to deploy what's already commercial very quickly and bring other technologies forward. And we can't just choose a single pathway. We need to see how the technologies develop, how the economics develop, and then ultimately, how political opposition or embracing technologies moves things forward.
Karl Hausker [00:53:13] I can spin a scenario of... If there's another major nuclear accident somewhere in the world, is that going to set us back on deploying nuclear? We're seeing a lot of opposition in the US on the East Coast to offshore wind. I think that's misplaced. I think we should develop it, personally. But citizens are lining up in many places to try to block that.
Karl Hausker [00:53:40] How much can we achieve through changes in diet and conservation? There's a lot in the IPCC report about how we can... If many people shifted to a plant-based diet, agricultural emissions would go way down and people would be healthier. One can say that strategy could succeed. But how many eggs can we put in that basket? How many major diet changes will take place over the next 30 years? All these are unknowns. Therefore, I think there's a strong argument to make for developing the full portfolio of options. We just have so much to do in such a short period of time that I don't think we can throw any tool out of the toolbox right now.
Phoebe Lind [00:54:27] If anything, we need to be inclusive rather than exclusive of any possible solution. That said, we've got to move fast, for sure. We've got seven years until 2030 already. We're only a few decades away from 2050 as well. But this has been very insightful. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast and shedding a little bit of light on this. It was wonderful to have you.
Karl Hausker [00:54:52] Thank you so much, Phoebe, for this opportunity. And thanks for everything you and your colleagues do.
Phoebe Lind [00:54:59] Of course. And as a reminder to our listeners, those slides. For more information on those charts, those graphs, those will be available in the show notes. Please check those out and we'll see you on the next podcast.