UNEP’s institutionalised energy discrimination is placing our future at risk

Ben Heard for Bright New World

1 November 2017

It sometimes happens that a stakeholder incurs a result it doesn’t like and shouts ‘bias’, ‘prejudice’, ‘discrimination’. Our receptivity to the claim may vary depending on how aligned that stakeholder is with our pre-existing interests and beliefs. Decision-making is often complicated and the claim of bias might just be hiding our own bias. The claim of discrimination may overlook reasonable justifications, arguments, constraints and analysis.

Absolutely none of the above mitigation applies to the conduct of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), in their decision to block the World Nuclear Association from becoming a Gold Sponsor of the upcoming Sustainable Innovation Forum, the largest side event of the Bonn climate talks. This was outright prejudice leading to blatant discrimination, and it was documented.

Bright New World has viewed correspondence relating to this chain of events. What transpired is crystal clear. A non-governmental organisation, one which exclusively represents a class of technology that provides energy without greenhouse emissions or pollution, made the challenging internal decision to put up £40,000 to sponsor an event. The event would be within the bounds of a culture, that of mainstream environmentalism, where they have typically been either ignored, derided or attacked.

They did it to build bridges with that community. They did it as an act of consistency with their own Harmony policy which seeks to unite energy technologies to a common cause. And, of course, they did it to have an opportunity to talk about what their members have to offer in sustainable innovations. Consider, UNEP is currently asking us to #BeatPollution. Nuclear power generation does not pollute; with the total absence of combustion, there is no emission of particulates, oxides of nitrogen, sulphur dioxide and other air-borne hazards.  There is also a total absence of carbon-dioxide emissions from operations, and nearly the lowest life-cycle greenhouse emissions of any electricity source. This latter point is established by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the United States, and referenced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself.

The sponsorship was accepted. Seven days later, just before WNA were to sign the contract, it was rescinded.

No written explanation came from UNEP; only apologies from the intermediary organiser (Climate Action). A lame offer came through this channel instead: give UNEP £12,000, and WNA could host a round table, but they would be completely invisible otherwise as event sponsors. In an act of amazing good grace, WNA indicated they would consider this (pretty insulting) offer. But it didn’t matter. Within days, this possibility, too, was pulled. No person at UNEP put their name to the decision. No written explanation or justification was provided other than, again, a sincerely apologetic email from the middle-man.

This is discrimination, only reinforced by UNEP spokesperson Naysan Sahba's statement that UNEP is interested in prioritising ‘the renewable revolution, as well as encouraging the ongoing shift from fossil fuel’.

The ‘renewables revolution’...that is little other than a tag-line for technology salespeople. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the mission of UNEP. Renewable technologies will be amply represented by the International Renewable Energy Agency, No, UNEP itself tell us its mission is:

‘… to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations’.

Leadership? Encourage partnership? It would have been exciting had UNEP fulfilled this mission and actively sought the participation of WNA in the name of encouraging partnership. But they didn’t even meet this partnership opportunity in a neutral way: they actively blocked it.

Last year, UNEP actively accepted the sponsorship of Vattenfall; their approximate energy portfolio, for both electricity and heat, is shown in the table below:

UNEP accepted the sponsorship of Vattenfall, who's portfolio is dominated by coal and gas.

UNEP accepted the sponsorship of Vattenfall, who's portfolio is dominated by coal and gas.

Vattenfall's Reuter West power plant burns hard coal to provide heat and power in Germany. Coal generation makes up the largest share Vattenfall's heat and power assets. 

Vattenfall's Reuter West power plant burns hard coal to provide heat and power in Germany. Coal generation makes up the largest share Vattenfall's heat and power assets. 

Vattenfall is a coal company first, and a gas company second, in both heat and power. Until recently, Vattenfall's greenhouse gas emissions were 84 million tons per year, about the same as Greece. They cut it to 24 million tons by divestment. They didn't close their lignite assets: they sold them to Czech owners . UNEP isn’t applying evidence-based screening of sponsorship. It is evidently ok if sponsorship money comes from a fossil fuel bottom line so long as they talk about renewables. They can even overlook the existence of nuclear in a portfolio. But they will not let nuclear be visible. This, they have actively prevented.

What has nuclear technology achieved after all, aside from being the keystone contributor to decarbonising entire electricity grids in different locations around the world, preventing mortality by slashing air pollution and making producer responsibility for waste an accepted core component of doing business?

What sustainable innovation could nuclear technology explore with this event? Perhaps smaller reactors with inherent safety, strong load-following capabilities, higher temperatures and improved fuel efficiency would be appropriate.

What best-practice could they describe in leadership and partnership, except a first-time nuclear nation successfully bringing 5.6 GWe of capacity online via a turn-key export solution?

There is no mitigation to be found. The United Nations Environment Program has acted with prejudice, leading to discrimination. As atmospheric CO2 rises to 407 parts per million, the world has every right to be outraged as such influential organisations are captured by outdated prejudice, play games with our climate, ignore evidence, and favour greenwash over results and determined action.

UNEP must fix this. It would take nothing more than Erik Solheim picking up the phone and having the organisation he leads adhere to its own mission.

Provide leadership. Encourage partnership.

Simple, beautiful, applicable, right…and never, ever too late.

Take Action Today

-       Bright New World will be in Bonn to take direct action on this issue in partnership with several other NGOs. Become a Bright New World supporter today!

-       Sign the petition calling on UNEP Head Erik Solheim to fulfil their stated mission and accept the sponsorship of WNA.



Ben HeardComment