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BEIJING, China - Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) and U.S. President Barack Obama attend a joint press conference in Beijing on Nov. 12, 2014, following their meeting. They agreed to reduce the risk of military conflict and combat climate change. (Kyodo)

Clean Energy Futures and the Role of Nuclear Power

Thanks to a number of factors – natural disasters, the steady flow of increasingly clear and detailed data, and significant new political accords such as the US-China climate consensus from October 2014 – climate change is now very squarely in the public and political debate (The White House, 2014). Many of us, of course, have been arguing that this should have been the case long ago. In my case I am very pleased to have worked as a contributing and then a lead author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since the late 1990s’ (IPCC, 2000).

With the scientific consensus now clear that global emissions must be dramatically reduced, by eighty percent or more by 2050, attention is turning to two themes: 1) what is the permissible budget of fossil fuel use? and 2) What are our viable scientific, technological, economic, and political options to power the economy cleanly before mid-century?

On the first question a series of increasingly clear assessments have appeared that document the oversupply we have of carbon-based fuels. In the latest, high-profile paper, researchers Christophe McGlade and Paul Ekins (2015) make clear that Hubbert’s peak – the rise and then decline in a non-renewable resource such as coal, oil or gas – is largely irrelevant to addressing the climate issue. Fossil fuel scarcity will not initiate the necessary transition.

The environmental bottom line is that to meet our climate targets, cumulative carbon dioxide emissions must be less than 870 to 1,240 gigatonnes (109 tons) between 2011 and 2050 if we are to limit global warming to 2 °C above the average global temperature of pre-industrial times. In contrast to that, however, the carbon contained in our global supply of fossil fuels is estimated to be equivalent to about 11,000 Gt of CO2, which means that the implementation of ambitious climate policies would leave large proportions of reserves unexploited.

There have been several recent calls from people and organizations concerned about global warming to use nuclear electricity generation as part of the solution. This includes The New York Times, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change), and a number of leading scientists, engineers, and politicians. These calls speak to the potential of nuclear energy technologies to deliver large amounts of low-cost energy. New advanced reactors, small-modular reactors, and fusion are all candidates for providing this energy, with knowledgeable and ardent supporters backing each of these technologies and pathways.

At the same time, there are very serious concerns with both the nuclear power industry as it has developed thus far, and with how it might evolve in the future. Alan Robock of Rutgers University summarizes these concerns in an exceptionally clear editorial piece (Robock, 2014), where he questions the ability of the nuclear power industry to meet needed standards of: 1) proliferation resistance; 2) the potential for catastrophic accidents; 3) vulnerability to terrorist attacks; 4) unsafe operations; 5) economic viability; 6) waste disposal; 7) impacts of uranium mining; and 8) life-cycle greenhouse impacts relative to ”renewables.” Battles back and forth between proponents and detractors are sure to continue, but simply looking at #5 on this list alone – the direct costs and opportunity costs of investing in present-day nuclear power–demonstrates the scale of the challenge.

To address this, consider that of the 437 nuclear plants in operation worldwide today, most will need to be replaced in the coming three decades for nuclear power to even retain its current generation capacity, let alone to grow as a major technology path to address climate change. To examine this future, my students Gang He and Anne-Perrine Arvin (2015) and I have built a model of the entire Chinese energy economy, where nuclear power is expected to play a major role.

Today, China’s power sector accounts for 50% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions and 12.5% of total global emissions. The transition from the current fossil fuel-dominated electricity supply and delivery system to a sustainable, resource-efficient system will shape how the country, and to a large extent, the world, addresses local pollution and global climate change. While coal is the dominant energy source today, ongoing rapid technological change coupled with strategic national investments in transmission capacity and new nuclear, solar and wind generation demonstrate that China has the capacity to completely alter the trajectory.

The transition to a low-carbon or “circular” economy is, in fact, the official goal of the Chinese government (SI-S2). In the U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change, China is determined to peak its carbon emission by 2030 and get 20% of its primary energy from non-fossil sources by the same year. The challenge is making good on these objectives. Installed wind capacity, for example, has sustained a remarkable 80% annual growth rate since 2005, putting China far in the lead globally with over 91 gigawatts (4% of national electricity capacity) of installed capacity in 2013 compared to the next two largest deployments, namely 61 gigawatts (GW) in the United States (5% of total electricity) and 34 GW in Germany (15% of total capacity).

China’s solar power installed capacity has also been growing at an unprecedented pace. Its grid-connected installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity has reached 19.42 GW by the end of 2013 (1.6% of total capacity), a 20-fold increase of its capacity in four years from 0.9 GW in 2010. These figures show that rapid technological deployment is possible.

Central to this discussion is the role of nuclear power, because half of all the new nuclear power plants planned by 2030 worldwide are forecast to be built in China (roughly 30 of 60 total nuclear plants anticipated to be constructed over the next 15 years).

The question remains whether this large-scale build-out of nuclear power will happen a) in China; and b) as a significant component of the energy mix in other nations, both industrialized and industrializing.

In our modeling work on both the Chinese and United States energy economies (see the program website: http://rael.berkeley.edu/switch), we find that there is a diverse range of pathways that can achieve the needed 80% emission reduction by mid-century. Some are more solar-dominated (Mileva, et al., 2013), some more wind-driven, some heavily reliant on biological carbon capture (Sanchez, et al., 2015) and so forth. A carbon price of $30 – 40 per ton of carbon dioxide is critical to drive each of these cases, and nuclear is no exception.

Returning to the list of challenges that Alan Robock poses, however, the prospects for nuclear power as a major source of energy are troublesome. This path is contingent on solving a very long and serious list of issues that most energy planners would conclude, at least at present, has not been successfully addressed.

Dr. Daniel M. Kammen is a professor in the Energy and Resources Group, and in the Goldmen School of Public Policy, and in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, and is the Founding Director, Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (http://rael.berkeley.edu) at the University of California, Berkeley.

References in the Article here.

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Climate Change Migration and Social Innovation

Climate change threatens to displace millions of people either across national borders or to new regions of their own country. While scientists cannot predict the exact number, a joint academic, civil society, and UN study concluded that “the scope and scale could vastly exceed anything that has occurred before” (CARE International et al, iv). Extreme weather events, rising sea levels, desertification, and other environmental disruptions will make certain parts of the globe uninhabitable. Residents of developing countries and small island states are particularly vulnerable to being driven from their homes.

Academics and advocates have urged states to take immediate action and recommended various ways to minimize the disruption faced by cross-border and internal migrants. This essay examines two model instruments. A Convention on Climate Change Refugees was proposed by Tyler Giannini and me in a 2009 article in the Harvard Environmental Law Review. The Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement within States were initiated by the nongovernmental organization Displacement Solutions and finalized and adopted by in 2013 by an international group of climate change experts that included lawyers, policy makers, and scholars. While these instruments differ in structure and scope, a comparison illuminates elements essential to any framework seeking to address the humanitarian impact of climate change migration: a focus on victims, a range of assistance, shared responsibility, and implementation mechanisms. Both models also approach a complex legal problem from an interdisciplinary point of view.

Two Frameworks

The proposed convention strives to address the needs of cross-border climate change migrants. It defines a climate change refugee as “an individual who is forced to flee his or her home and to relocate temporarily or permanently across a national boundary as the result of sudden or gradual environmental disruption that is consistent with climate change and to which humans more likely than not contributed” (Docherty & Giannini, 361). The proposed convention’s provisions fall into three categories. First, they mandate different types of assistance for climate change refugees. Second, they spread responsibility across host states, home states, and the international community. Third, they establish administrative bodies to ensure other provisions are effectively implemented. The proposed convention would ideally come in the form of a stand-alone legally binding instrument.

The Peninsula Principles seek to minimize the impact of climate change migration on individuals displaced within the boundaries of their own country. They define climate displaced persons as “individuals, households or communities who are facing or experiencing climate displacement,” which is “the movement of people within a State due to the effects of climate change including sudden and slow-onset environmental events and processes, occurring either alone or in combination with other factors” (Peninsula Principles, 16). The principles open with a preamble laying out their humanitarian purposes and international sources as well as an introduction with definitions and overarching provisions. The rest of the document is divided into five sections: general obligations, climate displacement preparation and planning, displacement, post-displacement and return, and implementation. Conceived as an international normative framework, the Peninsula Principles aim to provide “a clear and consistent soft law basis for… practical actions” (Peninsula Principles, 10).

Common Elements

The proposed convention and the Peninsula Principles adopt divergent strategies to an emerging global crisis. While the convention would be a legally binding instrument covering climate change refugees, the principles are designed as a non-binding set of norms applicable to climate displaced persons. A closer look, however, reveals common elements that should serve as the basis for any legal framework that deals with climate change migration.

Focus on Victims

Both the proposed convention and the Peninsula Principles focus on the needs of climate change victims, not the interests of the states from which or within which they migrate. These humanitarian instruments stress the importance of nondiscrimination in order to ensure that individuals receive assistance regardless of their age, sex, race, religion, or other status (Docherty & Giannini, 377-378; Peninsula Principles, 16). In addition, they emphasize the value of victims’ involvement in choices that affect their future. The proposed convention requires the agency established to implement its provisions to “take into account the opinions and concerns of climate change refugees themselves and allow them to participate in decision-making” (Docherty & Giannini, 388). According to the Peninsula Principles, states should consult with climate displaced persons and obtain their consent before relocating them, except when there is an imminent threat to life or limb (Peninsula Principles, 19, 22).

Range of Assistance

The proposed convention and the Peninsula Principles agree that states should provide a range of legal and practical assistance to climate change migrants. Both frameworks require protection of human rights and delivery of humanitarian aid. Drawing on the model of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the proposed convention obligates states to guarantee both civil and political rights, such as access to courts and the freedom to associate, and economic, social, and cultural rights, including rights to education, employment, and housing (Docherty & Giannini, 376-377). The proposed convention goes beyond the Refugee Convention, however, in order to ensure that “basic survival needs are met” (Docherty & Giannini, 378). The Peninsula Principles similarly call upon states to ensure climate displaced persons receive “support[] in claiming and exercising their rights,” and they specifically highlight rights related to housing, livelihood, and access to the justice system (Peninsula Principles, 17, 27). On a more practical level, the principles declare that states should provide humanitarian assistance, such as food, water, shelter, health services, and sanitation (Peninsula Principles, 25).

While the frameworks mandate remedial measures after migration has occurred, they also urge states to take preventive steps. Under the proposed convention, home states are obliged “to the extent possible, to address increased refugee flows before they reach the crisis stage. Crisis prevention could consist of either attempting to eliminate the need for migration or preparing to handle it in an organized way” (Docherty & Giannini, 381). The Peninsula Principles devote a section to “climate displacement preparation and planning.” The principles state that, in advance of climate displacement, countries should develop risk management strategies, identify possible relocation sites, and create institutional frameworks to facilitate the provision of assistance when it becomes necessary (Peninsula Principles, 19-25).

Shared Responsibility

Recognizing that climate change is a “global problem” with an “international cause and transboundary effects,” the two frameworks create systems of shared responsibility (Peninsula Principles, 12; Docherty & Giannini, 379). Both instruments place primary responsibility on the state where the migrants are located. The proposed convention obliges the host state to take the lead on protecting climate change refugees’ rights and providing them adequate humanitarian aid. The home state should supplement that assistance “to the extent possible” by implementing preventive measures and facilitating emigration when it is necessary and refugee return when it is feasible (Docherty & Giannini, 379-382). Because there is no host state in the case of climate displacement, the Peninsula Principles assign all of those responsibilities to the home state.

Given affected states’ limited resources and the problem’s global origin, the two frameworks identify international cooperation and assistance as essential to the solution. According to Docherty and Giannini, “The home and host states should not have to bear the burden of climate change refugees alone because, for the most part, their actions are not the root of the problem” (382). The proposed convention obligates the international community to provide support either to affected states directly or to humanitarian organizations that can deliver aid (Docherty & Giannini, 384). The Peninsula Principles list international cooperation and assistance as one of their general obligations, stating that “[c]limate displacement is a matter of global responsibility, and States should cooperate in the provision of adaptation assistance . . . and protection for climate displaced persons.” The Peninsula Principles grant affected states the right to seek assistance and demand that other states and international agencies provide it (Peninsula Principles, 18).

Implementation Mechanisms

To make the above elements a reality, the two frameworks require implementation mechanisms. The proposed convention focuses on three international bodies. It creates a global fund to “manage the provision of international assistance” (Docherty & Giannini, 385). It establishes a coordinating agency, akin to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to facilitate protection of human rights and delivery of humanitarian aid (Docherty & Giannini, 388-389). It also forms a body of scientific experts to determine who qualifies as a climate change refugee, assess each state’s financial responsibility, and conduct studies to help states better prepare for migration (Docherty & Giannini, 389-391). The Peninsula Principles urge affected states to implement the provisions on preventive and remedial measures at “local, regional, and national” levels (Peninsula Principles, 18). According to the principles, states should adopt relevant laws and policies, earmark financial resources, and “take all appropriate administrative, legislative and judicial measures . . . [to] support and facilitate the provision of assistance and protection to climate displaced persons” (Peninsula Principles, 24).

An Interdisciplinary Approach

Neither human rights law nor international environmental law adequately addresses the humanitarian problem of climate change. Traditional definitions of refugees and internally displaced persons do not encompass climate change migrants, and environmental law does not specifically deal with human migration. For this reason, the proposed convention and the Peninsula Principles take an interdisciplinary approach.

In general, human rights law influences the types of assistance mandated by the climate change migration instruments, while international environmental law informs their more administrative provisions. The proposed convention turns to the Refugee Convention for guidelines on human rights protections for cross-border migrants (Docherty & Giannini, 376-377). It draws on the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for models for its global fund and body of scientific experts, and for the precedent of assigning international assistance duties according to the standard of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (Docherty & Giannini, 385-391). The Peninsula Principles explicitly build on the 1998 UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement by requiring human rights protections and humanitarian aid for climate displaced persons (Peninsula Principles, 16). The Peninsula Principles also call on states to include climate displacement in their National Adaptation Programs of Action, which are mandated by the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (Peninsula Principle, 24).

The interdisciplinary approach of the two climate change migration instruments extends to borrowing from other sources of law, including humanitarian disarmament and indigenous rights. The proposed convention bases its humanitarian aid requirements on the groundbreaking victim assistance provisions in the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which absolutely bans cluster munitions and establishes positive obligations to mitigate the harm caused by the weapons’ past use (Docherty & Giannini, 378). The designers of the proposed convention also recommend an independent and inclusive negotiating process similar to the Oslo Process that created the cluster munition treaty (Docherty & Giannini, 398-400). The Peninsula Principles look to the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognizes these peoples’ unique relationship to the land. To reduce the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples, the principles state that relocation planning should maintain or replicate “rights to access traditional lands and waters” (Peninsula Principles, 24). Because no existing legal framework comprehensively deals with climate change migration, these solutions to the problem combine components of various precedents that have been tested and found effective.


The proposed Convention on Climate Change Refugees and the Peninsula Principles apply to different categories of climate change migrants and represent different types of legal instruments. Their commonalities, however, should be seen as essential elements of climate change migration law whatever form it may take. The interdisciplinary approach espoused by both the proposed convention and the Peninsula Principles is also crucial to the success of efforts to help people forced to flee their homes and ways of life. Climate change migration is a new humanitarian problem that requires an innovative solution.

Bonnie Docherty is a lecturer on law and senior clinical instructor at Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.



Climate Change and Investments in Sustainable Land Management

Land degradation and climate change perspectives provide a case for action to address the threat to food security in the eastern Africa region. The research work done in Vihiga, western Kenya underscores the complexity of undertaking conservation in smallholder farming systems. In smallholder farming landscapes, land degradation is more complex, and is associated with changes in socio-ecological conditions and increased vulnerability of agro-ecosystems to shocks and uncertainties (Nyssen, Poesen and Deckers 2009).  We note also that there is a need for a holistic approach for addressing land degradation. An examination of smallholder farming systems is required to better understand the factors that explain the low technology adoption rate, as well as to seize opportunities to facilitate wide scale investments in sustainable land management (SLM) (Dercon and Christiaensen 2010,). It is also crucial to take into account the significant expected reduction in productivity due to climate change, as it will have a direct effect on the vulnerability of smallholder farmers (Nelson et al. 2009, Rarieya 2009).We also consider other challenges facing the smallholder farmers: Barret and Swallow (2006) assert that increasing population numbers, diminishing soil productivity resulting from land degradation and poor marketing access limit productive investments. As poverty is endemic in the smallholder farming systems of East Africa, low-income levels reduce the capacity of farmers to invest in land quality improvements.

We seek to understand investments in conservation by smallholder farmers from highly erodible areas of the East African highlands in the context of climate change.  We pay specific attention to the role of rural household income sources on investments in sustainable land management.  Though often viewed as stable, smallholder farming systems are undergoing rapid change (Giller et al. 2011). We define non-farm income as coming from non-agricultural enterprises undertaken either on-farm or away from the farm. Natural resource management (NRM) income streams refer to natural resource-based enterprises that are undertaken off the farm and mostly in communal lands or even in public and trust lands. These definitions allow for differences in policy action targeting smallholder farms, communal lands, and other common property regimes.

The article has derived insights from the Lewis model of the role of dualism in the process of economic transformation (Lewis 1954), on structural change in the smallholder farming systems to amplify the significance of the non-farm sector (Bigsten and Tengstam 2011). Expansion of the hired labor market may cause changes in self-employment and wage employment in the rural areas occupied by smallholder farming systems.  What do these changes portend in light of the reduced land sizes, high population growth and increased significance of the cash economy in the rural areas?  Specifically, what influence does this scenario have on sustainable land management in the fragile but agriculturally important smallholder farming systems of the East African highlands?


We surveyed of a random sample of 320 households and 494 farm plots in the Vihiga District of Western Kenya.

The high population densities in the study area provide a primary focus for tensions on land use that threaten the sustainability of smallholder farming systems. Climate change perspectives further accentuate uncertainties in scaling up sustainable land management, and more specifically adaptation and conservation at a landscape level.

Interviews with experts and knowledge of the local environment enabled us to derive the empirical relationships and formulate hypothesis. In the analysis, specific land management practices are dependent on household income streams while controlling for land quality, household and community level factors. To understand the effects of land degradation and climate change perspectives, this study tests the following hypothesis: Firstly, non-farm and natural resource-based income strategies elicit negative effects on investment in sustainable land management technologies and practices due to the competition for labor.  Secondly, Natural Resource Management (NRM) income activities are primarily undertaken by smallholder farmers to enable them to maintain necessary household liquidity levels; and thirdly, the community’s cultural attachment to land may sway farmer households from the pure profit maximization motive. The study focused on erosion control measures as part of SLM and particularly on terracing, manure application and agroforestry.


Although much has been learned from diverse experiences in sustainable resource management, there is still inadequate understanding of the market, policy and institutional failures that shape and structure smallholder farmer incentives and investments decisions. Climate change has also negatively impacted soil and water conservation efforts in the region, thus complicating efforts towards landscape level conservation. Direct effects of climate change have included unpredictable rainfall, which hurt many of the smallholders who undertake soil and water conservation. Although there are various types of sustainable land management practices and technologies that have been adopted in various parts of the region, creating a wide-scale landscape-level conservation process has remained elusive.

Our survey of  sustainable land management practices suggest that erosion prevention was significantly greater in farms with only a single plot of land, lower food stock, higher education level of household head, and higher non-farm and crop income. Worryingly, we found no connection between the need for erosion control an investment in this area.  Due to the irregularity of remittance payments, households that had a unit more income through remittances exhibited less investment in erosion prevention. Evidently, households finance levels are becoming crucial in decision-making. This lends credence to our guess that NRM income could be acting as a safety valve.

Agroforestry was also positively influenced by NRM income activities, while manure application had no significant effect on investments in SLM.

These results were counter-intuitive as they rejected our expectation of competition for labor between farming and non-farm activities. Evidently non-farm and NRM-income activities improved household level liquidity, providing necessary investment capital.  The nature of NRM income activities, which is mostly undertaken in common property areas, provides insight into its effect on investments in agroforestry. There is, however, need to carry out further studies on NRM income activities and, more specifically, on its relationship with household energy requirements.

Most smallholder farmers valued crop production primarily for food security, not for income generation. Unstable market prices accentuated constraints in marketing basic food products such as maize and beans. As land becomes fragmented, plot sizes and the scale of crop production are reduced. This notwithstanding, all the farmers interviewed engaged in crop production and demonstrated a strong attachment to their land and to smallholder farming in particular. Farm level financial liquidity was addressed in different ways. A majority of smallholder farmers without non-farm income sources engaged in natural resource management to meet their immediate financial needs. Increased NRM activities were environmentally degrading and tended to corrupt public and community landscapes.

Investment in land quality improvement is also linked to community level institutional factors. Rural economies in developing countries are less competitive due to pervasive impediments and week environmental regulations. Due to the lack of regulation of common-property natural resources, off-farm natural resource-based income is often detrimental to conservation at the landscape level.

This paper provides the context for addressing the challenges faced by diverse stakeholders and smallholder farmers in surmounting land degradation problems through sustainable management of agro-ecosystems.  The three sustainable land management practices addressed in this study showed varied factors affecting their adoption and investment therein.  Primarily, policy support for SLM need to address specific measures separately as these measures demonstrate varying responses amongst smallholder farmers. Based on these results, we propose that sustainable land management programs should focus on the broad landscape level to capture and understand interactions between plots, farm levels and common property areas. There is also a need for more analysis on the socio-economic importance of the natural resource based income strategies, poverty status and associated ecological costs borne out of decisions made by farmers facing increasing challenges wrought from increasing population and decreasing farm sizes.

The rural space is urbanizing rapidly, and policy support needs to be leveled towards initiatives with multiple benefits, including various forms of non-farm activities that are conservation friendly and provide support to smallholder farmers.

Joseph Tanui,, Rolf  A. Groeneveld,  Jeroen Klomp, Jeremia  Gasper  Mowo, and Ekko C. van Ierland co-authored this article.   Tanui, Goeneveld, Klomp, and van Ierland are members of Environmental Economics & Natural Resources Group, Wagenigen University, The Netherlands. Tanui and Mowo are at the World Agroforestry Center.