COP28 recognises the critical role of nuclear energy for reducing the effects of climate change


A delegation from the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), led by NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV, (left) attended the conference to participate in these discussions about nuclear energy’s potential to help countries meet their net zero emission targets by 2050.

The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) was a historic event for nuclear energy when it was formally specified as one of the solutions to climate change in the First Global Stocktake of progress toward meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. A delegation from the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), led by NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV, attended the conference to participate in these discussions about nuclear energy’s potential to help countries meet their net zero emission targets by 2050.

World leaders and innovators in climate change solutions came together in Dubai to keep the world on track to keep global warming below 1.5°C.

The final COP28 Decision Text which was adopted at the end of the two-week conference, recognises the need for “deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5 °C pathways” and calls for global efforts to accelerate zero- and low-emission technologies, including nuclear, renewables, and abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilisation and storage.

NEA Director-General Magwood welcomed the news, saying: “The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency welcomes the outcome of the COP 28 global stocktake, which for the first time acknowledges the crucial role that nuclear energy could play in helping countries to lower their carbon emissions. Global emissions must reach net zero by 2050.”

“This has been a historic COP for the nuclear energy sector. Advancements in nuclear technology, including the development of small modular reactors and the launch of such initiatives as the NEA’s Accelerating SMRs for Net Zero provide realistic pathways to providing the clean energy that countries need to meet this goal,” NEA Director-General Magwood added.

In the lead up to the final COP28 Agreement, discussions and declarations between countries had put the spotlight on the advancements of nuclear energy technology which provided the basis for a growing support of nuclear energy. 

COP28 also saw 22 world leaders  sign a declaration to make efforts to triple nuclear energy by 2050. The declaration, announced by President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron at a ceremony on 2 December 2023, referenced 2022 NEA analysis which found that tripling nuclear energy capacity by 2050 would significantly help  countries reach their net zero carbon emission targets while creating and maintaining energy security.

“If you want to reconcile jobs creation, strategic autonomy and sovereignty and sovereignty, and low carbon emissions, there is nothing more sustainable and reliable than nuclear energy,” said Emmanuel Macron during his address at the Tripling Nuclear Energy by 2050 ceremony.

Many of the discussions at COP28 around nuclear energy were focused on innovation within the sector, including the development of advanced reactor technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMRs). This created a timely environment for the launch of the new NEA initiative Accelerating SMRs for Net Zero which was announced during the UAE COP28 Presidency’s high-level Atoms for Net Zero event on 5 December by NEA Director-General Magwood, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Deputy Secretary, David Turk, and French Ministry of Ecological Transition, Director General for Energy and Climate, Sophie Mourlon.

Accelerating SMRs for Net Zero leverages NEA’s network of industry leaders, government officials, researchers, and experts to establish a practical, solutions-oriented platform with a defined plan of work for collaboration and knowledge exchange to support decision makers in maximising the full potential of SMRs.

The NEA delegation took part in a variety of other events over the two weeks whilst also supporting NEA member countries at events in the country pavilions of France, Finland, Korea, Turkiye and the United Kingdom. These events covered a broad range of topics, including nuclear financing, the future of nuclear energy, strengthening clean energy partnerships and diversity within the nuclear workforce.

Engaging with the next generation of nuclear professionals is a critical task for the NEA, and the delegation spent some time meeting with young professionals during COP28. Director-General Magwood was invited to address the joint ENEC and FANR Youth Circle event on “The importance of International Co-operation among the Nuclear Energy Key Players in addressing Climate Change" and was interviewed by Nuclear for Climate at their COP28 stand.

At the conclusion of COP28, Director-General Magwood noted that the global nuclear sector has been left with a renewed confidence and a clear outline of actions which include boosting the workforce and sourcing new financing streams.

“For the countries who choose to include nuclear energy as part of their energy mix, we are hopeful that this global recognition will help propel growth within the nuclear workforce and unlock the financing the sector needs. Both these elements are crucial if the nuclear sector to fulfil its potential and reduce carbon emissions while providing energy security,” the Director-General concluded.

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