International Relations Theory and the Paris Climate Agreement

            Climate change is an existential threat to the planet. In the summer of 2021, one in three Americans experienced a climate disaster – whether from a heatwave, flash flood, wildfire, or drought[1]. Globally, more than 85% of the world’s population and four-fifths of the world’s landmass has suffered from extreme weather events linked to human-induced warming[2]. Tackling this problem requires significant, and rapid, international cooperation. The highlight of such cooperation to date has been the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

            Adopted by 195 countries on December 12th, 2015, the Paris Agreement marks the first truly global effort to rein in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making it the most important international instrument in the fight against climate change. The primary goals of the agreement are to (1) “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”, (2) “adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience”, and (3) make “finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development”.[3] Since the Paris Agreement came into force in November 2016, national policy, international business, and financial flows into technology and foreign investments are informed by these three goals. At the COP27 U.N. climate summit in Egypt last month, the key discussions primarily surrounded how nations are building upon their commitments in the Paris Agreement.[4]

How did the world arrive at such a landmark agreement? The history of climate negotiations has been littered with failures leading up to this moment, including the unwillingness of the U.S. to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in the early 2000s, and the collapse of the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.[5] Nations have been uniquely reluctant to cooperate on climate change due to concerns of hindering their own economic development, perceived long time horizon to take action, free riders who incur benefits of other nations cutting emissions, and divides between developed and developing nations on who is obligated to do more/less.[6]  

The surprise success at Paris can be attributed to the two most powerful nations, and largest carbon dioxide emitters, coming together – the United States and China. Indeed, many analysts and insiders have argued Paris was only possible because of a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and China, without which no global, multilateral deal would have been able to go through.[7]  This makes the Paris Agreement an ideal setting to test competing theories of international relations that can explain the behavior of states. Though the two nations are locked in a great power rivalry, they were able to compromise on a global climate deal. Understanding how and why great power cooperation is possible in the realm of climate change can help inform the conditions of success for future climate negotiations and other transnational challenges. The two theories I will test are Kenneth Waltz’s defensive realism and G. John Ikenberry’s liberalism. I will outline each theory’s assumptions, causal logic, and observable implications to predict how and why the U.S. and China agreed to form the Paris Agreement and the kind of mechanism we should expect to see in the evidence if the theory is correct.

Waltz’s Defensive Realism: Theory and Observable Implications

            In Waltz’s defensive realist worldview, states are the main actors in a world whose current structure is that of anarchy. This anarchy encourages states to adopt moderate and restrained strategies in a quest to ensure their survival, not to maximize their own power. This is because attempts to maximize power would cause other states to be insecure and form counter-alliances against a rising threat.[8] Moreso, Waltz assumes that nation-states will always seek maintain their self-interests regardless of the consequences of their actions on other states. For this reason, realists are skeptical of inter-state cooperation because one state often seeks to gain more than the other. This is known as the issue of relative gains, making states wary of cooperation for fear that they will end up relatively weaker than those they are cooperating with.[9] Waltz, however, doesn’t see the challenge of relative gains hampering cooperation in all instances, arguing that states will likely cooperate when the gains are large, and a state faces an external security threat it cannot manage on its own.[10] For defensive realists, cooperation can also help manage the security dilemma – where an increase in one state’s security causes another state to perceive it as an aggressive act which decreases their security and answers in kind, causing a vicious spiral.[11] This security dilemma draws its roots in states being unsure of one another’s intentions, which can be resolved through increased cooperation and collaboration.

            Under a defensive realist lens, what could we expect to see in Chinese and American behavior leading up to and at the Paris Climate summit? As great powers, we could expect that both perceive climate change as a potential threat to their survival and as a result they are coming together out of a desire to maximize their survival, not their power. Statements or declarations framing climate change as a security threat will help confirm this. Given the scale of the challenge, they may also decide that they need to rise above their self-interests and fear of relative gains to counterbalance against the rising threat of climate change through cooperation. Evidence of this could be found in looking at the structure of the Paris Agreement to see if the United States or China allows one or the other to achieve relative gains in order for higher absolute gains through global collaboration. Lastly, to avoid a security dilemma they may engage in a number of consultations to better understand each other’s intentions and expectations leading up to the Paris summit. Here, I will look to see how frequently and to what extent the U.S. and China engaged in diplomatic talks to hash out specific positions before the summit.

Waltz’s Defensive Realism: Testing Hypotheses and Findings  

            First,China and America should both perceive climate change as a threat to their security prompting them to take action to maximize their chance of survival. Here, the evidence is overwhelming. At the 2015 State of the Union, President Obama declared that “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change”[12]. A few months later in a speech to the U.S. Coast Guard, Obama went further, saying, “climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security. And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.”[13]China framed the challenge in similarly dire ways. In a 900-page scientific assessment released in the weeks before the Paris Summit, China found that climate change will trigger international disputes within their borders due to conflicts over water resources and transnational migration. It even found that potentially every piece of infrastructure built on China’s coast is vulnerable.[14] China’s top weather scientist said climate change will have “huge impact” and China would emphasize “climate security.”[15]  

            Second, China and the U.S. should have sought to counterbalance against the rising, external threat of climate change through cooperation – conceding relative gains in the name of combatting a more formidable challenge that neither can solve alone. One example of this was the Paris Agreement stipulation that developed countries would contribute $100 billion annually to help vulnerable countries adapt and mitigate against climate change.[16] This decision, agreed to by the U.S., demonstrates a willingness by the U.S. concede financial gains in exchange for climate action. The strongest evidence, though, was China willing to give up, partially, the “common, but differentiated” responsibilities framework that had guided the last 20 years of climate negotiations. In 1995, the world gathered in Berlin to operationalize the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Here, they arrived at the “Berlin Mandate” which declared that any emission cuts would primarily be borne by developed countries – like the U.S. and E.U. – excusing developing countries, like China, from any emission reduction targets.[17] In the years that followed, developing countries held strongly to this framework out of self-interest because they were highly suspicious of climate negotiations being used as a tool of developed countries to stymie their economic growth and development.[18]

Before the Paris Agreement, China still echoed its belief that “common, but differentiated responsibilities” should be the organizing principle of climate negotiations. Here, China was certainly acting in its own self-interests even though it had already become the world’s largest CO2 emitter by 2007. [19] However, China agreed to make emission cuts of its own for the first time in Paris – including peaking its CO2 emissions by 2030, increasing non-fossil fuels in its energy mix to 20%, reforesting 4.5 billion cubic meters of land, and lowering its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 60 to 65 percent.[20] This could reflect a decision calculus of defensive realism – China recognized the size and scope of an emerging threat and decided to forgo its self-interest of unhampered economic development, look past the relative gains that emission cuts would give its rivals, and collaborate with the developed countries to slow the impacts of climate change.

Third, China and the U.S. should have sought to limit the security dilemma by better understanding each other’s perspectives and intentions before Paris. There was ample evidence of the two nations carving out climate as a space to make common progress even while the two jostled for military and economic influence in the Indo-Pacific. For example, in 2013 the two established the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group to cooperate on topics like energy efficiency, heavy industries, and sharing emissions data. [21] Xi and Obama both met two months before the Paris Summit hashing out a number of climate positions and declaring jointly that both nations would “strengthen bilateral coordination and cooperation…to promote sustainable development and the transition to green, low-carbon, and climate-resilient economies.”[22]

Ikenberry’s Liberalism: Theory and Observable Implications

            In opposition to defensive realism, G. John Ikenberry defines the world order not as an anarchic fight for survival and power, but as a set of “governing arrangements between states, including its fundamental rules, principles, and institutions” whereby institutional arrangements create a political process which ensures that various states in the order remain “linked and engaged with each other.”[23] Liberalism’s core beliefs are that the spread of democracy and economic interdependence through international institutions and arrangements will strengthen peace. Its theorists see a “slow but inexorable journey away from the anarchic world” as commerce and institutions bind nations together.[24] What are the characteristics of these institutions and the states that form them? Ikenberry argues that a leading state will want to create a constitutional settlement whereby they get weaker states to agree to be bound to a “set of rules and institutions” now and in the future. [25] In return, the leading power also offers to limit its own autonomy and arbitrary exercise of power. From the vantage point of the weaker states, they need assurances that the leading state will actually abide by its commitments and is credibly restrained, otherwise they will balance against them.[26]

            In order for both sides to maximally gain this assurance, Ikenberry suggests a “binding institutional settlement” that locks in countries within an institution. The highest form of this is when institutional agreements are formally ratified as treaties. Ikenberry argues that treaties contain the authority and force of legal agreements and embed them “in a wider legal and political framework that reinforces the likelihood that it will have some continuing force as state policy.”[27] Ikenberry goes on to suggest that leading states have more incentives to build the world order around binding institutions, and in particular democracies are better able and more willing to create them because of their openness and decentralization.[28]

            Under the lens of Ikenberry’s liberalism, the most significant observational implication we should expect is the United States as the leading state and China as the secondary state to come to Paris looking to create a binding institutional agreement to tackle climate change. I will look for evidence whereby the Paris Agreement was structured such that both countries would become locked into a set rules that endures beyond the existing power dynamic between the two of them, and where the United States gives up some freedom as the leading state in exchange for China coming on board. We should expect the United States as a democratic leading state to advocate for a treaty-based architecture with the force of legal authority to create a maximally “sticky” institution to shape and constrain state action from its rival well into the future.

Ikenberry’s Liberalism: Testing Hypotheses and Findings  

            In reality, U.S. did not come into Paris seeking to arrive at a binding international climate treaty structure. Instead, the U.S. advocated for a voluntary-based approach where countries would be able to set their own emission reduction goals, called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), which are submitted to the UNFCCC.[29] There is no legally binding mechanism to stick to those goals, instead reputational and peer pressure is exerted for countries to meet and “ratchet up” its targets over time.[30] The Paris Agreement itself has little legal enforcement as it does not impose any fees for penalties for violations of its terms and there is no governing body with authority to enforce compliance.[31] But as a creative workaround, negotiators made the need to issue an NDC as legally binding but did not impose a legal obligation to meet it. Some argue this hybrid structure is precisely why 195 countries joined.[32]

            The structure of the Paris Agreement hardly follows Ikenberry’s prescription, particularly for a leading state that is a democracy. In fact, the U.S. specifically advocated this structure because it would not require Congressional approval since the U.S. was not to be held legally accountable for any specific targets. The Paris Agreement’s voluntary structure seems to fail Ikenberry’s position that the U.S. would want to bind its nearest peer rival, China, into an agreement that would ensure its compliance and action in the future, rather focusing on limiting the constraints to its own self-interests while still advancing climate action.


            After examining the formation of the Paris Agreement through the lens of Kenneth Waltz’s defensive realism and G. John Ikenberry’s liberalism, I find that defensive realism has a stronger explanatory force for how the U.S. and China ultimately came to the table. Both recognized that climate change was a security threat to its position in the system and felt compelled to put aside their self-interest and fear of relative gains to balance against the threat. The scholarly implications are more damning for Ikenberry’s liberalism which could not explain why the U.S. did not seek to create a legally binding structure to credibly restrain either itself or China. In fact, I would argue that constructivism could better explain the treaty structure since meeting the Paris goals is based on peer pressure, values, and norms motivating climate action.[33]

The policy implications are that further climate action remains possible as long as the security threat remains, and the great powers in the system have a forum to collaborate and come to an understanding to take action. The era of binding international agreements for climate are seemingly over and liberalist approaches will not define the negotiations in the near-to-medium term. This is an avenue of future research to understand under what conditions the U.S. and China might be willing to explore binding commitments. A limitation of this research is that it only looks at publicly available documents whereas interviews with key negotiators could reveal what dimensions of the climate issue could be pressing enough to push the great powers into a legally binding architecture that enhances the durability of the Paris agreement.

Works Cited

[1] Sarah Kaplan and Andrew Ba Tran, “Nearly 1 in 3 Americans experienced a weather disaster this summer,” The Washington Post, September 4th, 2021,

[2] Annabelle Timsit and Sarah Kaplan, “At least 85 percent of the world’s population has been affected by human-induced climate change, new study shows,” The Washington Post, October 11th, 2021, 

[3] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Adoption of the Paris Agreement,” December 12th, 2015,              

[4] Helen Briggs and Esme Stallard, “COP27: Why is the Paris climate agreement still important?”, BBC, November 2nd, 2022,

[5] Brad Plumer, “Past climate treaties failed. So the Paris deal will try something radically different.” Vox, Deceber 15th, 2015,

[6] Stefano Carattini, Simon Levin, and Alessandro Tavoni, “Cooperation in the Climate Commons”, Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Volume 13, Number 2, Summer 2019,

[7] Robert Falkner, “A Minilateral Solution for Global Climate Change? On Bargaining Efficiency, Club Benefits, and International Legitimacy”, Cambridge University Press, March 21st, 2016, and Robert O. Keohane & David G. Victor, “Cooperation and discord in global climate policy”, Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 570–575 (2016),

[8] Kenneth Waltz, “Theory of International Politics,” Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1979,

[9] Robert Powell, “Absolute and Relative Gains in International Relations Theory,” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 85, No. 4 (Dec., 1991), pp. 1303-132,

[10] Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, “Security seeking under anarchy: Defensive realism revisited” International Security, 25(3), 128–161, 2000-2001,

[11] Robert Jervis, “Realism, Neoliberalism, and Cooperation: Understanding the Debate,” International Security, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Summer, 1999), pp. 42-63,

[12] Madison Park, “Obama: No greater threat to future than climate change,” CNN, January 21st, 2015,

[13] President Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President at the United States Coast Guard Academy Commencement”, May 20th, 2015,

[14] Chris Buckley, “Chinese Report on Climate Change Depicts Somber Scenarios,” New York Times, November 29th, 2015,

[15] BBC, “Climate change: China official warns of ‘huge impact’”, March 22nd, 2015,

[16] NPR, “2 Degrees, $100 Billion: The World Climate Agreement, By The Numbers”, December 2nd, 2015,

[17] Bas Arts and Wolfgang Rudig, “Negotiating the ‘Berlin mandate’: Reflections on the first ‘conference of the parties’ to the UN framework convention on climate change”, Environmental Politics Volume 4, 1995 – Issue 3,

[18] Ibid. 17.

[19] John Vidal and David Adam, “China overtakes US as world’s biggest CO2 emitter,” The Guardian, June 19th, 2007,

[20] Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), “CHINA’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE PARIS CLIMATE

AGREEMENT,” July 2015,

[21] U.S. Department of State, “U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group Fact Sheet”, July 10, 2013,

[22]  The White House, “U.S.-China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change,” September 25, 2015,

[23] G. John Ikenberry, “After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order After Major Wars”, Princeton University Press, 2001.

[24] Jack Snyder, “One World, Rival Theories”, Foreign Policy, October 26th, 2009,

[25] Ibid. 23.

[26] Ibid. 23.

[27] Ibid. 23.

[28] Ibid. 23.

[29] Christopher Joyce, “Why Negotiators At Paris Climate Talks Are Tossing The Kyoto Model,” NPR, November 30th, 2015,

[30] United Nations, “The Paris Agreement,”,have%20joined%20the%20Paris%20Agreement

[31] Lila MacLellan, “Is the Paris Climate Agreement legally binding?”, Quartz, November 16th, 2021,

[32] Ibid. 31.

[33] John Boli and George Thomas, “Constructing World Culture: International Non-Governmental Organizations Since 1875, Stanford University Press, 1999,


Atomfrei: Angela Merkel’s Decision to Phase Out German Nuclear Power

On March 11th, 2011, the largest earthquake in Japan’s history set off a tsunami which breached the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The flooding destroyed the plant’s power generators preventing cool water from cycling to the hot nuclear core. Fearing a meltdown, Japan’s prime minister declared a nuclear emergency and ordered the evacuation of 150,000 residents living within a few mile radius.[1]

Nearly 6,000 miles away, Chancellor Angela Merkel watched on in horror. Only three days after the Fukushima incident, on March 14th, 2011, she made the decision to set Germany on the path to become atomfrei – non-nuclear.[2] At the time, nuclear power supplied nearly a quarter of Germany’s electricity.[3]

The legacy of Merkel’s decision to phase out Germany’s nuclear power fleet casts a long shadow on Europe’s largest economy today. The German’s are in the midst of an energy crisis as Russian gas flows have been cut off raising electricity prices by 60% from 2020[4], prompting industrial slowdowns, layoffs, and nationwide economic contraction. Making matters worse, Germany’s 2045 net-zero pledge is in jeopardy as greenhouse gas emissions have increased nearly 5%, the most in 30 years[5], due to the increased use of coal to fill the energy gap.[6]

More than 10 years later, this consequential decision is ripe for analysis. Did Merkel act too abruptly without sufficiently considering the pros and cons, or did she make the right decision with the information she had at the time? The process of coming to a decision on the nuclear phaseout reveals a number of strengths and weaknesses about Merkel as a leader and the range of leadership styles she employed.

Strengths of the Decision-Making Process

Leveraging Expert Power

The first strength was that Merkel leaned in on a skills-based leadership approach because she had a Ph.D. in physics.[7] Unlike her contemporaries, like Barack Obama, David Cameron, and Nicolas Sarkozy, who had backgrounds primarily in law, she was an actual scientist who wrote her dissertation on quantum chemistry and was thus able to understand and speak the technical language around nuclear power. Recently, she said, “you know from me that with my training as a physicist, I of course apportion a great deal of weight to academic advice and use it myself.” [8]

She was able to exercise her credentials as a form of “expert power” where her decision on weighing the safety of nuclear power had more credibility. Others in the government deferred to her expert power with Martin Faulstich, chairman of the German Advisory Council on the Environment, saying at the time, “As a scientist, Merkel understood climate change and the dangers of nuclear power.”[9] A prominent journalist covering her at the time, noted “Her years of research instilled in her the conviction that she has a very good sense of how likely events are, not only in physics but also in politics.”[10]

Being Flexible in Policies and Beliefs

The second strength was that she decided to pursue a policy that had popular support even though it meant flip-flopping on her and her party’s previous support of nuclear power – this underscored the                                                                                                               seriousness and gravity of the issue that Fukushima raised.  The German anti-nuclear movement has existed for decades beginning in the 1970s. It gained broader public support following the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986 resulting in a “nuclear consensus” with Germany’s large utilities that the country’s nuclear power stations would not operate beyond 32 years, leading to a full phaseout by 2022.[11]

When Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, regained power in 2009 she helped push through a reversal of the nuclear phaseout, extending the operating life of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants for an average of 12 years. This was a deeply unpopular decision with the public resulting in tens of thousands taking to the streets in nationwide protests in the fall of 2010. A survey from the newspaper Die Zeit at the time found that nearly 50% of the population was against any extension of Germany’s nuclear power plants. Just a few months later, Fukushima unfolded, prompting Merkel to turn her back on nuclear saying, ““Fukushima changed my attitude towards nuclear energy.”[12]

While this was portrayed as a U-turn that was done by Merkel to shift to wherever the prevailing political winds were, those close to her describe the decision as closer to a genuine “awakening”.[13] In contrast to her carefully calculated response to the Eurozone crisis, she demonstrated little hesitation in reversing her previous position from just a few months ago and taking on her party and the powerful utility industry. This displayed an acute sense of self-awareness and self-regulation not to be locked into an ideological or policy position, but to be open to change and recognize the moods, emotions, and drives of the nation around her in the moment.

Visionary Leadership

The third strength was demonstrating transformational leadership by articulating a vision for a sustainable Germany that would become the leader in renewable energy to replace the need for nuclear power. “We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible,” Merkel said as she announced the nuclear moratorium.[14] To do so, Merkel called upon to Germans to lead an Energiewende, an “energy turn” or “energy transition”, through a long-term societal and economic transformation to create a climate-neutral energy system by 2045.[15] She laid out a bold vision with an ambitious series of targets to double the share of renewable energy from ~16%[16] at the time to 35% of electricity generation by 2020, 50% in 2030, 65% in 2040, and more than 80% by 2050.[17]

Merkel seized the national fear around nuclear power to inspire the nation to become a renewable energy powerhouse instead, thus staking her credibility on a multi-decade energy transition. In rallying her supporters, she proclaimed, “If we succeed, [the Energiewende] – and I’m convinced of it – will become another German export hit. And I’m also convinced that if any country can succeed with this Energiewende, then it’s Germany.”[18]

Weaknesses of the Decision-Making Process

Insular Process Without Sufficiently Consulting Key Experts

Merkel’s decision-making process was not without its flaws. The biggest weakness was an insular decision-making team that didn’t involve key experts. As a result, a number of faulty assumptions were made about the vulnerability of German nuclear power plants. During the pivotal days after the Fukushima incident, it was reported that Merkel “reached the momentous decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022 after discussing it one night over red wine with her husband, Joachim Sauer, a physicist and university professor, at their apartment in central Berlin.”[19]

Coming to such a serious decision over just consultations with one’s spouse hardly seems like the ideal process. Indeed, as a result some erroneous assumptions were made about the true risk that Germany’s nuclear power plants posed. Merkel and her party were supportive of nuclear power in the wake of Chernobyl because they believed the nuclear safety, transparency, and technology standards in the Soviet Union were poor – vulnerabilities that German safety standards and technologies would not succumb to.[20]  Fukushima changed that perception. Merkel remarked, “we couldn’t help but take notice that, even in a technologically advanced country like Japan, the risks of nuclear energy cannot be securely controlled.”[21]

However, this was a faulty assumption – Japan did in fact did have lower nuclear safety standards. For example, Japan’s nuclear emergency planners were relying on a century-old plan for how to prevent flooding in response to an earthquake or tsunami. By comparison, German nuclear plants were designed to withstand 10,000-year floods.[22] Merkel’s rationale that if a nuclear accident can happen in Japan, it could also happen in Germany was too simplistic. As one observer noted, “had she consulted her own experts, her concerns could easily have been dispelled.”[23]

Interestingly, it appears Merkel did convene some experts after her initial announcement. After announcing the three-month moratorium on extending the life of ten of Germany’s nuclear plants, she ordered a safety check of all existing nuclear plants and established the Reactor Safety Commission to advise the government on the technical and operational safety of the nuclear fleet in light of what was seen in Fukushima.

The Reactor Safety Commission report was issued in May 2011 and concluded that the safety standards in Germany were quite high, but the seven oldest plants were not designed to withstand a plane crash. This ended up becoming the justification for shutting down the oldest reactors. In July 2011, the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, took up Merkel’s proposal and used the commission’s report to vote overwhelmingly to shut down all of Germany’s nuclear plants by 2022.[24] 

Given the high nuclear safety standards and relatively unlikeliness of a 9/11-style attack on nuclear plants, why move forward with the phaseout? This leads to the second major weakness of Merkel’s decision-making process – potentially over-emphasizing the political dynamics of the nuclear phaseout compared to longer term economic, climate, and security-related implications.

Prioritizing Domestic Politics over Economics and Energy Security  

At the time that Fukushima happened, it coincided with a critically important campaign period in the bell-weather state of Baden-Württemberg which was highly influential to national German politics. Merkel’s party had been in power there for nearly 60 years and was under threat by the Green Party, which was staunchly anti-nuclear. As she went to go campaign there in March, she was greeted by throngs of anti-nuclear protestors chanting “Shut them down!”.[25] A poll released by news channel N-TV at the time showed that 88% of Germans wanted the nuclear plants to shut sooner rather than later.[26]

Although it is difficult to know how much politics played a role in her final decision, she was undoubtedly sensitive to the implications. That same sensitivity, however, did not seem to be granted to the other stakeholders that would be impacted – including German industries, utilities, and national security advisors.

Germany is one of the world’s largest producers of cars, chemicals, and heavy machinery, requiring a stable and continuous flow of electricity. Pulling the plug on a quarter of electricity generation was met with heavy criticism from the Federal Association or German Industry, known as BDI. It’s president Hans-Peter Keitel wrote a letter to Merkel warning her about the consequences this would have for German industrial businesses which drove two-thirds of the German economy.[27] Germany’s four major utilities, E.ON, RWE, Vatenfall, and enBW, issued similar warnings – arguing that nuclear energy was a critical part of a stable electricity supply and it would be cheaper and cleaner than dirtier alternatives which would inevitably fill the gap.[28]

Lastly, Merkel turned a blind eye to the geopolitical implications of the nuclear phaseout. At time of the decision, Germany was Europe’s second largest importer of Russian gas, which provided almost 40% of all of Germany’s natural gas.[29] The day after the Bundestag formalized Merkel’s nuclear phase out, German Economy Minister Philipp Roesler went to Russia to discuss their energy relationship and gas exports.

Merkel was warned by her national security advisors that the nuclear phaseout would result in Germany becoming more dependent on Russian natural gas.[30]  Analysts and officials also forebode that the phaseout could embolden Russia and “spell trouble in the long run” because of Germany’s reliance on Russian energy. This was already an explicit calculation on the Russian side. In summer of 2011, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was reportedly “looking to secure closer access to consumers in Germany…after Berlin’s recent announcement that it would phase out of nuclear power by 2022 increased its need for alternatives.”[31]

Decision Outcomes

Eleven years since Merkel’s decision, how has the nuclear phaseout fared for both its detractors and supporters?

Renewable energy has grown exponentially in the German energy mix and is on track to reach Merkel’s stated goal. Germany generated around 120 terawatt hours (TWh) of renewable power in 2011, going up to 238 TWh in 2021.[32] As a result, renewable power has gone from around 16% of total German power generation to around 40% today – the goal was 35% by 2020 and 50% by 2050.

However, the growth in renewables has not fully closed the gap left by nuclear. In turn, Germany has ramped up its coal production to provide the baseload generation that nuclear power previously did. At least 20 coal plants have been brought back online or had their lifetimes extended.[33] The result has been an increase in annual CO2 emissions by 36 megatons, with an estimated 1,000 additional deaths from air pollution. [34] This has put Merkel’s 2030 emissions reduction target out of reach until potentially 2046.[35]

Along with the increase in emissions, the political savviness of Merkel’s decision has not aged well. German perceptions of the Energiewende are much less positive now than at the time. Today, nearly 82% of Germans believe the country needs to either delay closure of their remaining nuclear plants or they should be used in the long term – virtually a 180-degree reversal from the sentiment in 2011.[36]

This could be attributed to the fact that electricity prices have skyrocketed by an average of 60% which is driving inflation to nearly 10% year over year.[37] Energy costs for one German factory are expected to go up by 600% next year.[38] As a result, Germany is in fact keeping two of its three last nuclear plants on a “standby” status until April 2023 rather than completing the closure by the end of 2022 like Merkel had pledged.[39]

The decision to extend the nuclear plants has its roots in a fear that Merkel’s foreign policy advisors had back in 2011 – that Russia would not be a reliable energy partner. Indeed, since the invasion of Ukraine has Russia has throttled gas flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline down to 20% of its capacity[40], including completely halting gas flows for supposed “maintenance purposes”[41]. Wholesale gas prices in Germany have shot up 400%.[42]

Ultimately, Merkel’s nuclear phaseout achieved some of its goals, but largely ended up proving its detractors correct. While renewable energy has scaled impressively, overall Germany’s energy security and environmental footprint has deteriorated. The COVID-19 pandemic followed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have acted as twin shocks to the German economy and energy prices which have resulted in Germans seeking to extend the few nuclear plants that have yet to go offline and ultimately popular opinion reverting to support of nuclear power, regardless of any perceived risks.


In re-casting of Angela Merkel’s consequential decision to phase out Germany’s nuclear fleet, there are several ways the decision could have been more effective and executed more strategically. Here, I define a strategic decision as one that would have addressed the concerns around nuclear safety while also strengthening Germany’s economic and energy security. A more effective decision I define as one with a more robust decision-making process that better reflects the expert consensus on nuclear power along with the will of the people.

1. To make a more effective decision, Angela Merkel should have engaged in a more robust, and drawn-out consultative process with key nuclear power experts, energy industry leaders, foreign policy staff, and the Christian Democratic Union party leadership.

From the publicly available reporting, it appears as though Merkel was convinced to backtrack on nuclear while watching footage from Fukushima and ultimately made the final decision over dinner with her husband. The fact that the decision of this magnitude was made merely three days after Fukushima, while it was still occurring and all the details had not fully come out, and with her husband who was not a government employee, reflects a deficient consultation process with key experts in the relevant domain areas.

Putting ourselves in Merkel’s shoes on March 11th, 2011, as Fukushima was unfolding, a more effective approach would be to start from a standpoint of whether any action needed to be taken at all. Determining this answer would involve immediate engagement with the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (known as BMUV). It appears that Merkel only went to BMUV and the Reactor Safety Commission after the initial moratorium was announced which effectively set the political decision in motion. As was discussed earlier, there was a vast difference between Japanese and German nuclear safety standards and there were few if any parallels between what happened in Japan and what could happen in Germany – a fact which Merkel could have found out before announcing the moratorium if she had consulted with them.

If she was still resolved to move forward, she should have convened a Nuclear Transition Council with a six-month mandate to come to a decision on the scope and timeline of a nuclear phaseout. This council would be represented by key energy industry leaders including the four largest utilities – E.ON, RWE, Vatenfall, and enBW – as well as national security staff focused on energy security and Russia, and her political party’s (Christian Democratic Union) campaign arm, equivalent to our DNC or RNC. This council would have been able to provide a holistic perspective on how a nuclear phase out would affect electricity prices, CO2 emissions, the relationship with Russia, and political ramifications. By taking an integrated, expert-driven approach, Merkel would have avoided blindsiding any particular constituency and would more likely execute a policy that satisfied a broader swath of affected stakeholders.  

Critics may argue that Merkel did not have time to convene such a council, or that she did consult with these experts at the time. However, it was clear from the timeline that the thrust of the decision was made between March 11th and March 14th – three days was hardly enough time for an in-depth analysis of the situation on the ground in Japan and the impact of phasing out a quarter of the electricity supply in Germany forever. In addition, Merkel reportedly “sidelined foreign policy and security experts who warned her against seeing Russia as a reliable partner in trade” and moved forward with the phaseout.[43]  To suggest that she did not have time to engage in this process would presume that she made the decision with a political clock in mind, in particular the Baden-Württemberg elections at the end of March. If this were the case and Merkel did not have six months to let this consultative dialogue play out, then recommendation number two could have let her make a more strategic play.

2. To make a more strategic decision, Angela Merkel should have sought to bolster the safety of Germany’s oldest nuclear plants while still advocating for Energiewende – the energy transition – to create an alternate German political economy which shed dependence on Russian energy.   

The most strategic outcome for Merkel would have been one where she could present herself as genuinely responding to the concerns of German citizens regarding nuclear safety while putting the country on a path to a clean energy future that would also be independent of Russian energy supplies. How could she have done this?

First, in response to Fukushima, Merkel should have immediately ordered a review of the nuclear safety status, codes, and regulations for all seventeen of Germany’s nuclear reactors and order retrofitting or retiring of the oldest/most vulnerable reactors based on that review. This would have given her the flexibility to partially phase out nuclear power, or not at all, based on an evidenced-based approach that brought in the relevant experts while also appearing sensitive to German consternation about the safety of nuclear power – a message that could have also played well politically.

Second, in tandem with this decision, Merkel should have announced the Energiewende as geopolitical move, not one to compensate the loss of nuclear power. Making Germany a global powerhouse in the renewable power industry would strengthen its foreign policy. Rather than give an opening to Russia to further tighten their screws on German energy dependence, it would have forced them on a backfoot to look for alternative markets as German baseload power would be sustained by nuclear in the short to medium term. Although this could not have completely prevented the impacts of COVID-19, it could possibly have deterred the Russian invasion of Ukraine which was emboldened by their belief that Europe would not mount a coordinated response, in part because of German reliance on Russian energy.[44]

Ultimately, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tenure will forever be marked by her decision to phase out German nuclear power. While there were certainly admirable traits in her courage and political savviness to make such a consequential decision, I believe it will be remembered as a hastily conceived and executed plan without the right experts or political constituencies to make Germany’s energy transformation successful in the long term. Indeed, as Germans were told by their former finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble in October to “stop whining” and “just put on a sweater, or maybe a second sweater” in the event of energy blackouts this winter[45] – one can’t help but wonder whether Merkel’s unplugging of the country’s nuclear power is responsible for putting them in this situation.


[1] Adam Janos, “Fukushima Timeline: How an Earthquake Triggered Japan’s 2011 Nuclear Disaster,” History, March 5th 2021,

[2] Helen Pidd and Suzanne Goldenberg, “Germany suspends power station extension plans as nuclear jitters spread,” The Guardian, March 14th, 2011,

[3] Richard Van Noorden, “The knock-on effects of Germany’s nuclear phase-out”, Nature, June 3rd, 2011,

[4] Anna Cooban, “Rocketing energy costs are savaging German industry “, CNN Business, October 7th, 2022,

[5] Associated Press, “Germany ‘set for biggest rise in greenhouse gases for 30 years’”, The Guardian, August 15th, 2021,

[6] Angela Cullen, “Germany’s Carbon Emissions Rise in Setback for Climate Goals,” Bloomberg, March 15th, 2022,

[7] Emma Johnston And Kylie Walker, “OPINION: Angela Merkel’s career shows why we need more scientists in politics,” UNSW Sydney, September 24th, 2021,

[8] Reuters, “I’m a physicist, I listen to the science, Germany’s Merkel says”, November 2nd, 2020,

[9] Paul Hockenos, “The history of the Energiewende”, Clean Energy Wire, June 22nd 2015,

[10] Christian Schwägerl, “How Angela Merkel became Germany’s unlikely green energy champion,” The Guardian, May 9th, 2011,

[11] Kerstine Appunn, “The history behind Germany’s nuclear phase-out”, Clean Energy Wire, March 9h, 2021,

[12] Deutschland.De, “Especially memorable”, September 18th, 2021,

[13] Judy Dempsey, “How Merkel Decided to End Nuclear Power”, The New York Times, August 13th, 2011,

[14] Ibid. 10.

[15] Agora Energiewende, “Q1 What is the German Energiewende?”,

[16] Patrick Grosskopf, “Is 100% Renewable Energy possible for Germany by 2020?”, Global Energy Network Institute, August 2011,

[17] Ibid. 10.  

[18] Solar Choice, “Renewables are now mainstream in Germany: Merkel”, February 4th, 2014,

[19] Ibid. 13.

[20] Miranda A. Schreurs, “The politics of phase-out”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2012,

[21] Suddeutsche Zeitung, “Diese Leute sind brandgefährlich für unsere Demokratie”,

[22] Leon Holly, “Germany’s Quiet Nuclear Disaster”, Areo Magazine, June 1st, 2022,

[23] Ibid. 22.

[24]  Ibid. 20.

[25] Spiegel International, “Merkel Gambles Credibility with Nuclear U-Turn”, March 21st, 2011,

[26] Ibid. 2.  

[27] Ibid. 13.  

[28] Ibid. 20.

[29] Ibid. 13.  

[30] Patrick Wintour, “‘We were all wrong’: how Germany got hooked on Russian energy”, The Guardian, June 2nd, 2022,

[31] DW, “Energy Matters,” July 18th, 2011,

[32] Kerstine AppunnYannick HaasJulian Wettengel, “Germany’s energy consumption and power mix in charts”, Clean Energy Wire, August 3rd, 2022,

[33] Rob Schmitz, “Amid an energy crisis, Germany turns to the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel”, NPR, September 27th 2022,

[34] Ibid. 22.

[35] Chris Lo, “Energiewende: assessing Angela Merkel’s clean energy legacy”, Power Technology, December 12th, 2019,

[36] Isabeau van Halm, “Weekly data: Shift in Germany’s perception of nuclear energy,” Energy Monitor, August 22nd, 2022,

[37] The Local De, “How electricity prices are rising across Germany”, November 25th, 2022,

[38] Ibid. 4.  

[39] Sonal Patel, “Germany Halts Closure of Two Nuclear Plants Until April 2023,” Power Magazine, September 8th, 2022,

[40] AP, “Russia to cut gas through Nord Stream 1 to 20% of capacity”, July 25th, 2022,

[41] CNBC, “Russia’s Gazprom keeps gas pipeline to Germany switched off,” September 2nd, 2022,

[42] Ibid. 4.  

[43] Philip Oltermann, “Germany agonises over Merkel’s legacy: did she hand too much power to Putin?”, The Guardian, March 5th, 2022,

[44] Matthew Karnitschnig, “How Germany helped blaze Putin’s path into Ukraine”, Politico EU, February 24th, 2022,

[45] Kate Duffy, “Germans told to stop whining, wear 2 sweaters and have candles and flashlights ready in case of blackouts this winter,” Business Insider, October 12th, 2022,

China Climate

Climate Trade Wars: China’s WTO Dispute with the E.U.’s Carbon Border Tax


In July 2021, the European Union proposed to implement a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), otherwise known as a carbon border tax. The goal of the CBAM is to increase the cost of importing six categories of carbon-intensive goods from foreign nations: steel, iron, cement, aluminum, fertilizers, and electricity generation. This policy was introduced as part of the E.U.’s legislative mandate to reduce 55% of its emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050[1].

After the announcement, several countries complained that the measure created discriminatory barriers for World Trade Organization (WTO) members to access the E.U. market. The nation most affected is China – the E.U.’s biggest trading partner, and the world’s largest exporter[2].  

When questioned about the CBAM proposal, Liu Youbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment, said that it was “essentially a unilateral measure to extend the climate change issue to the trade sector. It violates WTO principles … and will seriously undermine mutual trust in the global community and the prospects for economic growth.”[3]

If the CBAM enters into force on January 1st, 2023, as is currently proposed[4], China could choose to retaliate by imposing their own tariffs against European goods and sue the E.U. through the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body to acquire legal relief from complying.

China’s Own WTO Compliance and its Legal Case Against CBAM

Despite valid concerns about the CBAM, China does not have much credibility to levy accusations of unilaterally flouting international trade law. Since joining the WTO in 2001, China’s compliance has been popularly described as “mixed” or “complex.”[5]

Though they have liberalized the economy in some areas, there remain a range of issues where China has not met its commitments, including industrial subsidization, intellectual property protection, forced joint ventures and technology transfer, and market access to the services industries[6]. Between 2009 and 2015, China-related complaints accounted for 90% of the cases brought to the WTO by the U.S., E.U. and Japan[7].

There are three issues where China could allege the CBAM violates the WTO[8], but its own practices also run afoul of those same trade principles.

First is Article I’s most-favored-nation treatment rule, which requires that any advantage granted to an imported product from one WTO member must be granted to all other members.

China could argue that the E.U. is discriminating against them by selectively choosing an arbitrary set of products it must buy emission certificates for based on how dirty its manufacturing process is compared to other countries.

At the same time, China has spent decades selectively treating intellectual property (IP) owned or developed by other WTO members in a different way from IP developed in China. The result is coerced joint ventures with Chinese firms which result in involuntary IP transfer and a siphoning of technology and trade secrets from other countries[9]. A 2019 report found that one in five North American companies had their IP stolen from China just that year[10].

Second is Article II’s tariff schedule which lays out the maximum level of tariffs that a country can apply against another country’s exports.

If the cost of the CBAM emission certificates exceeds the ceiling on customs duties that the E.U. agreed to, also known as the bound rate, then China could argue this would be a violation of Article II. While the final certificate costs have not yet been finalized, it’s likely that the price will rise over time to meet the E.U.’s ambitious emission targets.

However, Chinese tariffs on U.S. imports today already exceed the bound rate on more than 128 products, breaching its obligations under Article II[11]. Moreover, China’s expansive use of subsidies effectively undermines its tariff reduction commitments by offsetting the cost of domestic production.

Last is Article III’s national treatment rule which requires that imported products not be given less favorable treatment than domestic products.

Today, almost 43% of the E.U.’s emission certificates are given for free to the manufacturing, power, and airline industries[12] – sectors which are harder to abate, but whose free allocations are expected to decline and be phased out. European industries are lobbying hard to keep their free allocations, but if they are not phased out before the CBAM goes into effect then China can argue its products are at a competitive disadvantage by paying a carbon price that the E.U.’s manufacturers aren’t paying.

Again, China provides massive subsidies to its domestic industries including semiconductors, solar panels, steel, aluminum, glass, and auto parts. That also provide an unfair advantage to its domestic products. For example, 95% of Chinese technology firms received R&D subsidies in 2015 accounting for almost a quarter of their total R&D investment[13]. Since joining the WTO, subsidies have financed nearly 20% of China’s manufacturing capacity every year[14].

CBAM and China’s Approach to International Law

The contradictions between China’s potential legal case against the CBAM with its own trade practices fits into its larger approach towards international law: a set of norms and practices to be obeyed when practicable and overlooked when they cannot[15]. By accusing the E.U. of doing that which it is also guilty of, China would continue a trajectory of acting as a “selective revisionist” in the international system looking to promote its own economic interests through exceptions and special conditions[16].

If the CBAM is taken to court, the E.U. could seek justification under Article XX’s general exceptions, arguing that the CBAM is “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health,” by tackling climate change[17]. But even if the WTO rules in favor of the E.U., China has a long history of either failing to adhere to decisions or creatively interpreting them in way that thwarts thwart the purpose of the ruling itself[18].

In the context of CBAM, this could look like Chinese manufacturers obfuscating or falsifying the total extent of carbon emissions for their products, as has been done before[19], and artificially buying a lower number of emission certificates.  These actions would further reinforce the tension between China’s desire to promote its own interests and its desire to be seen as a responsible member of the multilateral order.


The E.U.’s CBAM would be the first carbon border tax implemented at an international level, but it has already set off discussions in Germany, Japan, the U.S. and Canada about implementing similar policies. In response, it looks likely that China will contest CBAM policies as unilateral actions that violate international trade law, if nothing to buy time as they hopefully push Chinese firms to quickly decarbonize their manufacturing processes.

While China could make a number of valid legal arguments against the CBAM, it will be throwing stones from a glass house. Given China’s complex track record of compliance with past WTO rulings and conditions for entry, many of the complaints China could allege would apply to several of its own trade practices.  

Contradictions notwithstanding, the WTO represents the only arena of international relations where China has agreed to resolve foreign conflicts through an international court[20]. Thus, how the China-E.U. CBAM dispute gets settled will have significant ramifications on the ambition of future carbon reduction policies and the cooperation of the world’s largest trader and carbon emitter to support these efforts.

[1] Council of the European Union, “Council agrees on the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM)”, March 15th, 2022, .

[2] Eurostat, “China-EU – international trade in goods statistics,” February 2022,

[3] Muyu Xu and David Stanway, “China says EU’s planned carbon border tax violates trade principles,” Reuters, July 26th, 2021,

[4] Ibid. 1.   

[5] Timothy Webster, “Paper Compliance: How China Implements WTO Decisions,” Michigan Journal of International Law, Volume 35, Issue 3, 2014,

[6] Stephen Ezell, “False Promises II: The Continuing Gap Between China’s WTO Commitments and Its Practices,” Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), July 26th, 2021,

[7] Mark Wu, “The ‘China, Inc.’ Challenge to Global Trade Governance,” Harvard International Law Journal, vol. 57, no. 2, Spring 2016,

[8] James Bacchus, “Legal Issues with the European Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism,” CATO Institute, August 2021,

[9] Ibid. 6.   

[10] Eric Rosenbaum, “1 in 5 corporations say China has stolen their IP within the last year: CNBC CFO survey,” CNBC, March 19th, 2019,

[11] United States Trade Representative (USTR), “CHINA – ADDITIONAL DUTIES ON CERTAIN PRODUCTS

FROM THE UNITED STATES,” May 2nd, 2019,  

[12] European Commission, “Free Allocation,”  

[13] Ibid. 6.  

[14] Ibid. 6.  

[15] Michael J. Mazarr, Timothy R. Heath, Astrid Stuth Cevallos, “China and the International Order,” RAND Corporation, 2018,

[16] Ibid. 16.

[17] Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jisun Kim, Jeffrey J. Schott, “Can EU Carbon Border Adjustment Measures Propel WTO Climate Talks?” Peterson Institute for International Economics, November 2021,

[18] Ibid. 5.  

[19] Muyu Xu and David Stanway, “China slams firms for falsifying carbon data,” March 15th, 2022, Reuters,

[20]Gregory Shaffer and Henry S. Gao, “China’s Rise: How It Took on the U.S. at the WTO,” Singapore Management University School of Law Research Paper No. 14/2017, March 20th, 2017,

China Climate

The Geopolitics of China’s Energy Future


China is the world’s largest consumer of energy and emitter of CO2 emissions – nearly double that of the United States[i],[ii]. Amidst global pressure to decarbonize its economy, China is concurrently ascending as the world’s pre-eminent industrial superpower. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 14th Five Year Plan (2021-2025) makes binding directives to shrink carbon emissions while also forecasting new energy requirements for “high-quality” development and economic growth[iii]. China made a monumental 2060 net-zero pledge that stands as an ideal vision rather than a detailed roadmap, with specifics that will take years to formalize, much less implement[iv]. Along the way, China will have to reconcile its pledge with being the world’s largest consumer of coal and second-biggest consumer of oil and gas.

These contradictions in China’s energy strategy are explained by the imperative for China to maintain economic growth in order to sustain the CCP’s legitimacy. The Party set a very optimistic GDP growth target of around 5.5% this year which they seem unlikely to meet[v]. This will continue a trend of year-on-year growth slowing. If China wants to be the world’s dominant power, it needs to continue to grow. And a growing economy, one on pace to become the largest in the world by the next decade[vi], will require much more energy. Indeed, China’s GDP growth remains tightly coupled with its energy consumption which puts pressure on the CCP to acquire as many sources of energy as it can.

Source: Michael Meiden, “Unpacking China’s 2060 Carbon Neutrality Pledge,” The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, December 2020.

The fundamental constraint for the Chinese today is that they are energy insecure. A near term forecast as indicated by Figure 1 sees the CCP continuing to get these sources from coal, oil and natural gas. China’s energy portfolio today is highly dependent on both high polluting and imported energy sources – a vulnerability that has been well acknowledged by Chinese policymakers for years. This has driven many of China’s flagship geostrategic projects including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which aim to secure maritime trade routes and transportation infrastructure across Africa, Asia, and Europe to guarantee energy access[vii]. However, a green transformation is in the cards over the next 40 years. China’s overall economic diplomacy and foreign policy will increasingly include discussions of energy and can help relieve some of their constraints for relying on fossil fuels.  The government has a familiar playbook of interventions that is used to shore up its actual growth metrics and perceptions of its strengths, using its economic heft for both business leverage and geopolitical gain. 

Thus, this paper sets out to answer the question: how can China’s energy policy help them meet their growth aspirations and achieve energy security while working towards their emission reduction targets? There are four dimensions of China’s current plans for their energy mix that will be analyzed to answer this question along with their geopolitical implications: clean energy, critical minerals, oil and gas, and coal. These represent the principal levers through which China will control their energy future. After framing the current state of these energy sectors, policy recommendations are provided on how best they can leverage the clean energy, critical minerals, and fossil fuel portfolios to achieve their triple aim of energy security, economic growth, and emission reduction.


[i] Center for Strategic and International Studies, “How Is China’s Energy Footprint Changing?”, March 17th, 2022,  

[ii] Ritchie, Hannah, Roser, Max “CO2 Emissions”, Our World in Data, 2020  

[iii] Murphy, Ben “Outline of the People’s Republic of China 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and Long-Range Objectives for 2035”, Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), May 12th, 2021,

[iv] Meidan, Michal “Unpacking China’s 2060 carbon neutrality pledge,” The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, December 2020,

[v] Yao, Kevin and Woo, Ryan “China targets slower economic growth as headwinds gather,” Reuters, March 5, 2022:

[vi] Rapp, Nicolas and O’Keefe, Brian, “This chart shows how China will soar past the U.S. to become the world’s largest economy by 2030,” January 30th, 2022,

[vii] Bassler, Christopher and Noon, Ben, “Mind the Power Gap: The American Energy Arsenal and Chinese Insecurity”, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CBSA) , August 25th, 2021,

Climate Essay Review

Can Integrated Water Resources Management Increase Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change?

Climate change is increasing pressure on water systems because of extreme drought, heat waves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification. Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) is the dominant policy paradigm for all levels of government to manage their water resources. Is IWRM up to the task of adapting to climate change and the stresses on our shared water resources?

I summarize a paper in the Journal of Water Resource and Protection which overviews the history of water resource management, the global norms of water security, how we define “adaptive capacity”, and identify the ways IWRM can improve the resilience of our water systems.

What’s needed is for climate planners to develop an integrated form of sustainably managing water specifically at the river basin scale with multi-stakeholder participation, equitable access, and demand management through quotas, tradable water rights, and user charges. 

Read More:

Climate Policy Memo

Geopolitics of Hydrogen: Decarbonization and Disruption


Hydrogen could be the missing piece to solve the clean transition puzzle[1]. It has the potential to substantially decarbonize transportation as well as hard-to-abate industrial, power, and heating processes. Accordingly, more than 30 countries have developed national hydrogen strategies[2] and agreed at COP26 to accelerate the deployment of green hydrogen[3]. As a result, hydrogen could fulfill a quarter of total energy demand by 2050[4].

This anticipated boom carries significant geopolitical implications. New hydrogen export champions will change the geography of the global energy trade, presenting new trade route vulnerabilities as well as potentially new political alliances. Additionally, a new dimension of global energy competition will unfold over the green hydrogen supply chain where China is already leading. To facilitate the growth of hydrogen in line with net-zero goals, nations will have to protect new trade routes, engage in substantive hydrogen diplomacy, and invest in new capacity for critical technologies like electrolyzers and fuel cells.

Hydrogen’s Role in A Decarbonized Economy

Hydrogen has been used as a staple of the chemical and energy industries for decades. Around 120 million tons are produced annually and used primarily as a feedstock in crude oil refining, synthesizing ammonia for fertilizer, and methanol production which goes into a number of products including plastic[5].

Hydrogen’s decarbonization potential centers around transportation, energy storage, power generation, and heating industrial processes. In fuel cells, hydrogen chemically reacts with oxygen to produce electricity without releasing any greenhouse gases. These fuel cells can be used to power trucks and light-duty cars, like the 2022 Toyota Mirai[6], as well as provide onsite power generation for homes and commercial businesses, like is being done by Adobe, Apple, and Microsoft[7]. For policymakers, hydrogen being storable, dispatchable, and potentially a zero-emission source of energy and heat at any time of the day is especially attractive.

Man in China refills hydrogen fuel cell cars

Even more exciting is hydrogen’s potential to clean up hard-to-abate sectors of the economy. Ammonia synthesized from clean hydrogen, known as e-ammonia, can be used to power shipping vessels, effectively decarbonizing 90% of worldwide trade[8]. Hydrogen can also be burned as a fuel to generate heat at extremely high temperatures (greater than 1,000°C) without emitting CO2[9]. This enables it to decarbonize industrial products like steel and cement which account for 15% of all global emissions[10].

However, hydrogen is an energy carrier not an energy source[11]. The significance of this distinction is that it must be produced from another substance, usually by splitting water molecules or fossil fuels. These extraction methods are color-coded to signify how the hydrogen was produced. 95% of today’s supply is “grey” hydrogen, which is produced from fossil fuels through natural gas steam methane reforming or coal gasification[12]. The two most prominent alternatives are “blue” or “green” hydrogen.

Blue hydrogen is simply grey hydrogen, but the emissions are pumped below ground using carbon capture technology. Green hydrogen is produced with an electrolyzer which splits water into oxygen and hydrogen using electricity generated by renewable energy. This process, known as electrolysis, produces no carbon emissions. Green hydrogen represents only 3% of total hydrogen production[13], but is expected to become the dominant production pathway by 2050 as the cost of solar PV and wind continues to decline[14].

How Green Hydrogen Will Disrupt the Global Energy Map

Today, hydrogen consumption is highly localized – nearly 85% of hydrogen produced is consumed on-site, usually at a refinery[15]. But in the last few years more than 30 countries and regions have released or are preparing national hydrogen strategies which is setting the stage for a boom in the cross-border hydrogen trade. The demand for green hydrogen as an internationally traded commodity will spur new investment flows, trade relations, and interdependence between nations that have not traditionally traded energy.

As a result, the geopolitics of the global energy trade will change in four ways: (1) the introduction of new energy export champions, (2) geographic vulnerabilities along hydrogen trade routes, (3) new alliance configurations and the growth of hydrogen diplomacy, and (4) a technology race to secure the green hydrogen supply chain.

New Energy Export Champions

Unlike oil and gas, green hydrogen can theoretically be produced anywhere, but states will benefit from international trade by acquiring it from countries who have a comparative advantage in the availability of renewable energy, freshwater, and necessary export infrastructure. The countries with the biggest advantage in green hydrogen include some new players in the global energy scene, including:

  • Australia: In 2019, Australia released its national hydrogen strategy positioning itself to become one of the top green hydrogen exporters due to its abundance of renewable resources. It has invested more than $1 billion in its hydrogen industry and forged a series of bilateral export deals with Germany, Japan, and Singapore[16].
  • Chile: In 2020, Chile launched a green hydrogen strategy aiming to produce 25 GW of capacity and become the world’s cheapest source hydrogen by 2030 and a top three global exporter by 2040. It’s estimated that it will sell $30 billion in green hydrogen by the end of the decade, taking advantage of its solar and wind resources[17].  
  • Morocco: In 2021, Morocco released a green hydrogen roadmap and is estimating an export market of 10 terrawatt hours (TWh) by 2030[18] on the back of its strong solar industry[19]. IRENA acknowledged the importance of this market by recently signing a partnership to expand Morocco’s green hydrogen investment[20].  
Chile’s national hydrogen strategy aims to make it the world’s cheapest source of green hydrogen by 2030.

Where will this green hydrogen go? The primary nations who have staked their energy future on hydrogen include:

  • Japan: In 2017, Japan was the first to adopt a national hydrogen strategy declaring that it would become a “hydrogen society”[21] . Since then, the government has started building a massive infrastructure to import and distribute hydrogen, including a $670 million investment in 2020 to build nearly a million fuel cell vehicles and 900 hydrogen fueling stations[22].
  • South Korea: In 2019, South Korea instituted a national hydrogen roadmap pledging to use hydrogen to power 30% of cities and towns by 2040. It already has deployed the most fuel cell vehicles in the world at around 10,000 and aspires to reach 200,000 vehicles by 2025[23].
  • Germany: In 2020, Germany unveiled its own national hydrogen strategy, investing 7 billion euros in hydrogen business and infrastructure and pledging to produce 10 GW of power from hydrogen by 2040[24]

Geographic Vulnerabilities Along Hydrogen Trade Routes

Regional and global hydrogen trade is in its early stages. Figure S.2 provides an overview of the potential trade routes from green hydrogen exporting regions in Latin America, Asia Pacific, and Northern Africa crisscrossing around the world to major importers.

Hydrogen can be transported in two ways, via pipeline or shipping. The overseas hydrogen trade will give rise to new important shipping lanes, which will also present themselves as vulnerable maritime choke points, much like the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf for oil. One prominent green hydrogen shipping route from Australia to Japan would run through the East China Sea which has been prone to territorial disputes between China and Japan[25].

Similarly, transporting green hydrogen via pipeline from northern Africa into Europe will place transiting countries in vulnerable positions much like Ukraine and other critical transit countries in the natural gas market.

These vulnerabilities will inform strategic planning and defense considerations and ultimately could result in new alliances on a bilateral basis centered around hydrogen access and security.

New Alliances and Growth of Hydrogen Diplomacy

As importer nations look to secure access from emerging export champions, hydrogen diplomacy will become a standard fixture of economic and energy diplomacy. Indeed, the Netherlands was the first to appoint a dedicated “hydrogen envoy” in 2019 as part of efforts to ink deals with Chile, Namibia, Portugal and Uruguay as potential suppliers.

Germany has not only established bilateral hydrogen deals with Australia, Chile, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia, and Ukraine, but set up dedicated hydrogen diplomacy offices in those countries[26]. Japan is engaged in similar diplomacy to establish hydrogen value chains with Australia, Brunei, Norway, and Saudi Arabia. Chile declared that it would use “green hydrogen diplomacy” to attract foreign investment and unleash its export potential.

Profound geopolitical shifts could occur under these new alliances. For example, Germany’s bilateral hydrogen deals could wean its dependence off Russian natural gas. OPEC might find its influence dimming in Japan, which imports nearly 90% of its oil from the Middle East[27], as it opts to substitute oil for hydrogen fuel cells to power cars and buildings.

Technology Race for the Hydrogen Supply Chain

Underlying these shifts will be an intense competition for the green hydrogen supply chain, especially electrolyzers and fuel cells. Europe is currently the largest manufacturer of electrolyzers, but China is vastly beating them on cost with standard alkaline electrolyzers (the most common type) that are 83% cheaper[28]. Moreso, China dominates the access to, and ability to process, raw materials like nickel and zirconium needed to produce electrolyzers and platinum-group metals for fuel cells[29].

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of hydrogen (almost entirely grey), leads the world in deploying fuel cell trucks and buses, and has placed hydrogen as one of its six industries of the future. This presents a risk that large parts of the green hydrogen supply chain will ultimately be controlled by China, subjecting it to the political volatility seen in other goods caught in global trade disputes and protectionist actions.

Liquified hydrogen storage tank

Although it may be too late to compete with China on cost, Western nations could innovate by maturing solid oxide and proton exchange membrane technologies which are superior to China’s alkaline electrolyzers in utilizing variable renewable energy resources[30]. The market for hydrogen technologies is still relatively small, with upcoming gigafactories for large-scale production of electrolyzers in Australia, France, India, Italy, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom holding the possibility to drastically change the current manufacturing landscape[31].

Some estimates indicate that by 2050 there will be a $50-60 billion market for electrolyzers and $21-25 billion for fuel cells[32]. Thus, the hydrogen trade will add another dimension to existing geo-economic rivalries and will become a new battleground between major powers and emerging economies for supply chain security and technological superiority.


Green hydrogen has the potential to be a true game-changer in the fight for net-zero. It can power fuel cell electric vehicles, store renewable energy at utility scale, and be burned as a substitute fuel in carbon intensive industrial processes without releasing CO2. As interest in hydrogen grows, new players, alliances, vulnerabilities, and supply chain competition will arise.

While countries like Japan, South Korea and Germany prepare to become significant importers, countries like Australia, Chile, and Morocco stand to gain geopolitical weight as new export champions. But in order to make this vision real, these countries will depend on critical production and distribution technologies that are controlled by China, for now. Hydrogen diplomacy, technology innovation, and new security alliances will be pivotal to ensure that green hydrogen is able live up to its promise of solving a key part of the clean energy puzzle.

About The Author

Chetan Hebbale is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. focused on international economics, climate change, and sustainability.

Prior to this, he spent over 4 years at Deloitte Consulting working on technology and strategy projects at the CDC and U.S. Treasury Department.

He is a native of Atlanta, GA and attended the University of Georgia.

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[1] Noé van Hulst, “Hydrogen, the missing link in the energy transition,” International Energy Agency, October 17th, 2018,

[2] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg.39, 2022,

[3] Cato Koole and Thomas Koch Blank, “COP26 Made Clear That the World Is Ready for Green Hydrogen,” Rocky Mountain Institute, November 23rd, 2021,

[4] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg. 24, 2022,

[5] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg. 24, 2022,

[6] Toyota, “2022 Mirai,”

[7] Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association, “Stationary Power,”

[8] Gabriel Castellanos, Roland Roesch and Aidan Sloan, “A Pathway to Decarbonise the Shipping Sector by 2050,” International Renewable Energy Agency, October 2021,

[9] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg. 24, 2022,

[10] Rebecca Dell, “Making the Concrete and Steel We Need Doesn’t Have to Bake the Planet,” The New York Times, March 4th, 2021,


[12] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, 2022,

[13] International Energy Agency, “The Future of Hydrogen,” June 2019,

[14] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, 2022,

[15] International Energy Agency, “The Future of Hydrogen,” June 2019,

[16] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg. 52, 2022,

[17] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg. 48, 2022,

[18] Ibid.

[19] Aida Alami, “How Morocco went big on solar energy,” BBC, November 18th, 2021,

[20] IRENA, “Morocco and IRENA Partner to Boost Renewables and Green Hydrogen Development,” June 10th, 2021,

[21] Monica Nagashima, “Japan’s Hydrogen Strategy and Its Economic and Geopolitical Implications,” French Institute of International Relations, October 8th, 2018,

[22] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg.41, 2022,

[23] Ibid.

[24] Rossana Scita, Pier Paolo Raimondi and Michel Noussan, “Green Hydrogen: The Holy Grail of Decarbonisation? An Analysis of the Technical and Geopolitical Implications of the Future Hydrogen Economy,” Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, October 2020,

[25] Fridolin Pflugmann and Nicola De Blasio, “Geopolitical and Market Implications of Renewable Hydrogen,” Environment and Natural Resources Program – Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, March 2020,

[26] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg. 79, 2022,

[27] U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Country Analysis Executive Summary: Japan,” October 2020,

[28] Thijs Van de Graaf, Indra Overland, Daniel Scholten, Kirsten Westphal, “The new oil? The geopolitics and international governance of hydrogen,” Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 70, December 2020,

[29] Rajesh Chadha, “Skewed critical minerals global supply chains post COVID-19: Reforms for making India self-reliant,” Brookings India, June 10th, 2020,

[30] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg. 62, 2022,

[31] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg. 61, 2022,

[32] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg. 59, 2022,

[33] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), “Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor”, pg. 12, 2022,

Climate Short Form

Is Nuclear Our Only Hope or a Waste of Time?

Side #1: Investing In More Nuclear Is A Waste of Time

Building more nuclear power plants doesn’t make sense: they’re too expensive, take too long to build, and are fundamentally unsafe with the safety risks only increasing as the environment deteriorates.

The Cost and Time To Build Nuclear Plants Is Astronomical

Nuclear energy cannot economically compete with wind and solar. The cost of generating solar power ranges from $36 to $44 per megawatt hour (MWh), while onshore wind power comes in at $29–$56 per MWh. Nuclear energy costs between $112 and $189 – more than three times as much.

The Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, only the second reactor built in the US since 1996, is estimated to cost $27 billion and has been under construction for almost 10 years. Once fully built, Vogtle will generate about 2,200 MW of power. In comparison, the fully operational Bhadla Solar Park in India took 4 years to build, generates 2,245 MW of power, and cost $1.3 billion. If you had reinvested the remaining $25 billion set aside for the Vogtle plant into solar you would generate nearly 20 times the power and saved 6+ years.

Some may argue that learning by doing with nuclear plants will lead to standardization and cost savings. The evidence for that is limited. In France, the country with the most successful and expansive nuclear program covering 70-80% of the country’s electricity, construction costs have actually risen over time rather than fallen . This is due to rising labor costs, more complex reactors, and new regulations imposed after the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents.

One study has shown that we can get 90% of the way to zero carbon electricity with no new nuclear by 2035 if we double the amount of wind and solar in this decade and triple it in the next decade. Accomplishing this will require substantial investments in battery storage technology, high-voltage transmission lines, and more efficient production methods. Unfortunately, we’ve invested more government R&D support into nuclear than any other type of renewable. If this changes now we could resolve many of the issues preventing real clean energy from being scaled at the level necessary.

There’s No Solution to the Nuclear’s Safety Problems

Radioactive waste remains active for up to 250,000 years. As of today, there is no permanent solution as to where waste can be stored. Right now nuclear plants are employing a temporary solution to store waste on-site in dry casks. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said this method is only safe for 60 years.

A permanent disposal site in Yucca Mountain, Nevada, has been surveyed, studied, and debated since 1987 but continually faces political hurdles and may never become a nuclear storage site (or it does and could become a nuclear volcano).

Some argue that the elegant solution to the nuclear waste problem is reprocessing. This is where the fission products and unused uranium in spent fuel can be continually re-used to generate additional nuclear fuel rather than being sealed and discarded.

President Jimmy Carter banned reprocessing in 1977 due to fears of the process creating plutonium, which could be used to make nuclear
weapons. But President Reagan lifted the ban in 1981. The problem is that the cost of reprocessing exceeds using the cost of using new fuel as long as the price of uranium remains low. At current prices of uranium, reprocessing increases the cost of generating electricity making it even less competitive against renewables.

The problem with maintaining and cleaning up nuclear waste is not just that it’s incredibly expensive and poses proliferation risks – it will get more dangerous because of climate change.

Nuclear has to be close to a body of water or coast because of the need to access large amounts of water to cool the nuclear fuel rods before they overheat. These are the same areas that will experience increasing flooding, hurricanes, and sea level rise as the climate crisis worsens. This will increase the risk of meltdowns and release of nuclear waste – like the release of radioactive waste water into the Pacific Ocean following the meltdown of the Fukushima reactor in Japan.

Side #2: Nuclear Power is Our Only Chance To Get To Net-Zero

While nuclear may be expensive right now with potential environmental vulnerabilities, there is simply no other carbon-free electricity source available today that can meet the size and scale of today’s energy demand and what’s needed in the future.

Nuclear Supports An Equitable Transition, Unlike Renewables

Yes, building new reactors is expensive. But this is mostly just true in the U.S. It’s because there is not enough repetition and standardization to get cost savings. China, Japan, India and South Korea have gotten there. South Korea had an average decline in the costs of nuclear of 2%. Small modular reactors promise to transform the speed and cost of bringing new plants online by taking 1/2 to 1/3 as much time with at least 15-17% cost reduction.

The more important point is to look at comparative costs if we didn’t have nuclear at all. Every year 442 global nuclear reactors reduce 1.2 billion tons of emissions. Just keeping existing plants open would be far less expensive than developing and bringing online new renewable technologies to remove the same amount of emissions.

Lastly, the cost of nuclear has multiple layers. Detractors of nuclear focus on one dimension of cost which is the cost per MWh. But there are significant social costs in cities where coal plants are being shut down and entire communities are losing their livelihoods and identity. Nuclear power provides better economic prospects for job-retraining paying 37% more than wind and solar as well as providing long-term jobs not just temporary jobs to install solar panels or wind turbines (which require very little long term operational support).

Wind and Solar Cannot Match the Reliability of Nuclear

Nuclear is largest source of carbon free baseload power. Period. It’s the only energy source that can supply electricity throughout the day and night in a zero carbon way. That alone will make it a necessary part of a net-zero economy.

Right now nuclear comprises of nearly 20% of the U.S. electricity supply – more than 10x the amount currently coming from solar. Because of the vast variability in amount sunshine and strength of wind, renewables suffer from a severe amount of unpredictability when it comes to grid management. As a result, on their own they are incapable of meeting current U.S. energy demand necessitating fossil fuels to fill the gap.

But renewables are not only unreliable from an intermittency standpoint – they’re also very vulnerable from a supply chain standpoint. For example, technologies for battery storage and solar panels carry large mineral and mining costs. Nearly half of the minerals and raw materials used for solar cells come from the Xinjiang region of China where there are allegations of forced labor camps being used for production. By contrast, the United States has an abundant domestic uranium supply estimated to last 100-years.

Lastly, is is the issue global renewable adoption. Other countries don’t have the option of solar and wind because of geographical constraints in terms of how windy or sunny their countries are. For them, nuclear may be the only way to go carbon free. The U.S. only represents about 11% of all carbon emissions in the world, so for the remaining 89% nuclear may be their only way to substantially decarbonize. 

Nuclear’s Safety Issues Are A Solvable Problem

The safety discussion around nuclear is happening on an uneven playing field. In the real world, the safety of nuclear should not be compared to renewables, but to coal. The reality is that solar and wind cannot replace coal as a continuous source of energy supply. If the 20% of the electricity mix from nuclear goes down, it will at least in part be filled by coal and natural gas.

However, the health effects of coal and natural gas plants have been normalized compared to the fear of radiation exposure. The deaths from air pollution and cancer as a result of sulfur dioxide, arsenic, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter exposure coming from coal plants dwarfs the number of people who have died from nuclear power by orders of magnitude. Suffice it to say, nuclear is not causing 800,000 pre-mature deaths every year like coal. Similarly, fracking for natural gas has known links to asthma symptoms, childhood leukemia, cardiac problems, and birth defects in surrounding communities.

Coal also releases more radiation than nuclear waste. Burning coal gasifies its organic materials into fly ash which contain radioactive elements like uranium and thorium. Chinese fly ash on its own has .4 pounds of triuranium octoxide/MT.

In fact, the entire amount of nuclear waste created in the U.S. would fill one football field, 10 yards deep. By comparison, a single coal plant generates as much waste by volume in one hour as all nuclear power plants have in their entire history. If we want to comprehensive get rid of coal, nuclear is our best bet.

Aside from the issue of fossil fuel substitution, nuclear plants do not necessarily need to be subject to climate disasters. Following Fukushima, nuclear engineers have created concrete solutions to avoid rising sea levels and hurricane floods. These include relocating the plants 6 miles inland, building 50-foot tsunami walls, using a lead acid battery backup system, and relocating the diesel generators to a higher site.

Lastly, the obvious answer to the waste problem is reprocessing. Nuclear facilities can and should reprocess nuclear fuel and use it to generate additional fuel. Plutonium can be blended with uranium to create mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) that could burn in ordinary reactors and also render plutonium no longer usable for weapons. UK, France, several other EU countries, and Japan have been using MOX for years.

Frankly, the threat of nuclear proliferation with nuclear plants has had 70 years of data to be proven true. Since the 1950s, 132 commercial reactors in 35 U.S. states have been licensed for operation. Today, 104 remain in operation at 65 sites in 31 states. Globally, 442 reactors are in operation in 30 countries. Where’s the dirty bomb? It hasn’t happened. Terrorists cannot simply just pick up some uranium and make a bomb. This worst case scenario should not be driving our energy policy when the planet is facing more immediate threats.


While nuclear may seem dangerous and expensive, it does provide a major pathway to large-scale decarbonization. However, given the cost and time needed for new nuclear plants to come online and significantly reduce global emissions, putting that money into wind and solar infrastructure and battery storage would likely achieve the same results faster and without the potential environmental draw backs.

Ultimately, even if we starting build more nuclear reactors now they will take an average of 10 years to build, by which time the green energy transition will have to be mostly complete. There’s no guarantee that new types of reactor designs, like small modular reactors, will be quicker to build or financially competitive and there is no time or money to waste.

Rather than investing any more time or money into building new nuclear plants, the existing ones should be kept online with the remainder of R&D investment going towards new solar and wind.

About The Author

Chetan Hebbale is currently a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. focused on international economics, climate change, and sustainability.

Prior to this, he spent over 4 years at Deloitte Consulting working on technology and strategy projects at the CDC and U.S. Treasury Department.

He is a native of Atlanta, GA and attended the University of Georgia.

Read More: