France’s bet on nuclear power is a more proven option. After all, most of France’s electricity has come from nuclear power for many years, and although anti-nuclear sentiment is strong in Europe — and, increasingly, in France — nuclear power will remain part of the global energy mix for decades to come, simply because much of Asia (including China, India, South Korea and Japan) will remain major users of it.
The key point is that France and Germany, and many other European countries — including the Scandinavian countries, with their considerable wind and hydropower potential — are recognizing that the world as a whole will have to move away from a fossil-fuel-based energy system. That is the right calculation.
Many will no doubt argue about which alternative — France’s bet on nuclear power or Germany’s solar pathway — is wiser, but both strategies are probably correct.
Studies show that deep de-carbonization of the world economy from now to mid-century, a time horizon mandated by environmental realities, will require that all low-carbon options — including greater efficiency and renewable energy — be scaled up massively.
One of the highest priorities of the new UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network will be to elaborate alternative pathways to a low-carbon economy, taking into account the specific conditions of countries around the world. Different countries will choose different strategies, but we will all need to get to the same place: A new energy system built on low-carbon sources, electrification of vehicles and smart, energy-efficient buildings and cities.
Early movers may pay a slightly higher price today for these strategies, but they and the world will reap long-term economic and environmental benefits. By embracing truly sustainable technologies, France, Germany and others are creating the energy system that will increasingly support the world economy throughout this century.
Jeffrey Sachs is professor of sustainable development, professor of health policy and management, and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also special adviser to the UN secretary-general on the Millennium Development Goals.
Copyright: Project Syndicate