2018 was another year of uncertainty and a spreading feeling of insecurity. What could turn that round in 2019? Here are some thoughts:
My New Year hopes (contributions to the global stockpile of hope) are to do with:
- The Korean peninsula and especially the US-DPRK part of the process (they need to listen better to each other);
- Yemen, to implement the Hodeidah ceasefire properly and get the parties to sit down together again;
- Syria, Libya and too many other countries, to get beyond chaos;
- And on climate change – to respect the science and to set out to manage the unavoidable consequences of climate change and, by making progress on reducing carbon emissions, taking the first steps towards avoiding the unmanageable.*
There are many other things one could hope for, of course, starting with arms control. But these points were what occurred to me when I was asked the question.
- Thanks, Gary Lewis of UNEP, for the formulation.
One thought on “And 2019: what could/should happen next?”
This is what should be done next on climate change, after three years of crunching the problem and talking to the IAEA, US DOE, the Chinese, university business schools, peacebuilding NGOs, environmentalists, defense specialists, public sector fusion people, and private sector fusion companies. And, it will only cost $30bn of petrostate sovereign wealth fund money – under 1% of available funding – to fund 6-8 public and private sector programmes over a decade in exchange for IPR and enough corporate social responsibility to pump tens of billions – per year – into the Green Climate Fund:
Proposed Call for an Independent IAEA Global Commission on Urgent Action for Fusion Energy
(This Call is for an independent IAEA global commission along the lines of the newly established global high-level Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency [https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2019/july/iea-unveils-global-high-level-commission-for-urgent-action-on-energy-efficiency.html]. It should be noted that any one UN member state could trigger the mandate necessary for the IAEA to implement the Commission approach).
1. Multiple converging public and private-sector timelines suggest that a ten-year timetable to a prototype ‘burning plasma’ fusion energy reactor appears feasible – but only if fully funded such that continuous operations (working 24/7) are possible. Because of fusion’s implications for lower greenhouse gas emissions, less air pollution in cities, and less dependence on energy imports, there is now an overarching need to create an independent global commission to accelerate the development and commercialization of nuclear fusion, in terms of policy recommendations in areas such as funding regime, global regulation, socioeconomic development, and geopolitical management.
2. Establishing such a Commission is a natural role for the IAEA. In particular, the IAEA, as an autonomous agency reporting to the UN, has a present dire need to conduct detailed socioeconomic analysis of how much is being spent on fusion, which pathways may be most feasible, and how much additional expenditure may be needed to fund nuclear fusion development and commercialization to benefit the UN’s existing mandates to manage climate change, provide energy for all, and maintain global peace and order.
3. The development and rapid commercialization of fusion has the potential to be disruptive in terms of existing primary energy supplies. The commercialization of fusion will have immediate socioeconomic impacts on coal-producing nations, such as the largest Muslim coal producing country, Indonesia, which supplies coal into ASEAN countries, China, and internationally, as well as less severe effects on oil-producing countries. The Commission would create policies to manage these issues in line with basic market principles, development economics and aspirational goals for humanity.
4. Basic market principles for an innovative industry require the development of the demand side, i.e., growing a customer base, including education in the nature of the product. Even in the Global West and East, raising appreciation of the merits of fusion in academia, the public sector, the private sector, and civil society and the media is problematic. When viewed through the lens of innovation economics, the problem of developing a customer base in the Global South (represented at the UN by the G77 bloc of 134 nations, and China) is an order of magnitude more complicated due to the relative poverty of the majority of these countries, raising additional barriers to education and business creation efforts. This is an obstacle to the development of ‘energy for all’ and ‘reducing inequality by nation’, both required for growing a future market for fusion and in accordance with UN mandates via the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
5. Conditional or even unconditional aid to the Global South via mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund of the Paris Agreement are not ideal from a business, development, or philosophical perspective. Unless carefully tailored, aid tends to be temporary, unsuited or disruptive to local market conditions, and in any case can create a dependency that could be viewed by the Global South as ‘neo-colonial’ in nature. Furthermore, the Green Climate Fund is massively underfunded and does not have the money to fund the transition to fusion. The Commission therefore must develop concrete policies and recommendations for funding regimes; it cannot rely on aid or the ‘goodwill’ of the Paris Agreement.
6. Instead of aid, the Commission should emphasize the development of an awareness and understanding of nuclear fusion by the Global South funding itself, followed by innovative Global South co-development of fusion. The Global South includes extremely wealthy oil producing nations (‘banker nations’) who have a vested interest in diversifying their economies and maintaining internal stability and international relations with the global East, West, and other members of the Global South while transitioning to a fusion and renewables energy mix. Many of these countries, like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, possess large sovereign wealth funds. Thus, the Global South could, via a Special Purpose Vehicle, invest in the co-development of nuclear fusion. This could occur via the investment of several billions of dollars per year (on average) over a decade, in exchange for shares in companies, realizable via the Green Climate Fund, with banker nations receiving special share options as incentives, realizable perhaps on the flotation of companies or other agreed conditions.
7. Investment by G77 banker nations in fusion would first require knowledge sharing. One model that the Commission could investigate is a) the IAEA (perhaps working with the IEA) provides oversight and ensures independent assessment of public sector fusion programmes and private sector fusion companies; b) the nation states which are home to the companies’ public sectors, which in the US would be the DOE, DOD, and the DOS, vet companies, protect strategic interests, and green light companies for G77 investment, with equivalent public sector structures performing the same missions in China and other nations with fusion companies; c) the companies themselves provide as much information as possible while compartmentalizing knowledge and fire walling core Intellectual Property (IP) as appropriate; and d) on the Global South side, a G77 scientific appraisal consortium (an existing mechanism for technology employed by the G77) in the form of a ‘Fusion Task Force’ is set up to monitor progress and publicly disseminate technical progress reports.
8. The membership of the G77 Fusion Task Force would likely be merit based, i.e., some representatives would already be highly innovative countries with national fusion labs. However, it should also represent regional and developmental interests. For instance, on these bases, the Fusion Task Force could consist of Brazil, South Africa, the UAE, and Kazakhstan, as well as representatives of less developed nations, the emphasis being on the reporting of technological progress to other G77 nation states on a bloc basis in an accurate and timely fashion so as to minimize geopolitical issues.
9. The ultimate objective of the Commission is building accelerating the arrival of fusion energy while building global peace and stability through growing global prosperity. Injecting fusion into the energy mix provides a ubiquitous energy source which will be mass produced and co-manufactured in different countries, preserving or revitalizing manufacturing bases, the IPR for which will automatically be respected because it will be guaranteed by the participation of the Global South in co-development and overseen by the IEA/IAEA. In geopolitical terms, such a course of action would avoid ‘New Cold War’ or ‘Hot War’ ‘traps’, i.e., the ‘Churchill Trap’ (new Iron curtain falling across the world) or ‘Thucydides Trap’ (war between declining and rising hegemonies). The Commission would seek to ensure complex geopolitical tensions may be reduced, visible in real terms in initiatives such as repurposing military industrial complexes towards the joint exploration and industrialization of deep space.
10. Working towards these goals has already started, though mainly on an ad hoc, individual, company, or single agency basis. Support for a Commission by the Fusion Industry Association (FIA), the IAEA, and UN member nations, and especially by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, should be encouraged. We can already begin the education process through expanding the size of fusion conferences, with special regard to selecting symbolically important locations. In addition, priority G77 member states should be invited to jointly organized FIA and IAEA sponsored site visits to FIA members, affiliates, or prospective members to raise awareness.