BANGKOK — Worldwide calls to curb nuclear power amid Japan's plant crisis could be bad news for the environment unless nations finally go all-out to tap wind, solar and other clean, renewable energy, climate change negotiators and activists say.
If countries scrap nuclear plants, which emit no greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, they may turn to the fossil fuels that experts call the main culprit behind climate change. Environmental activists counter that the tragedy may prove a defining moment, a window of opportunity to strike a decisive blow against both.
"It's a false choice to give the public an alternative between a climate change disaster or a nuclear disaster. We need renewable energy," said Tove Maria Ryding of the environmental group Greenpeace. "Now, we can either have a kick back or a leap forward."
Christiana Figueres, the U.N.'s top climate change official, said that all countries are reviewing nuclear policies in the wake of Japan's crisis.
"It remains to be seen what they decide," she said at a 173-nation conference running through Friday in Bangkok. The gathering aims to build on a climate summit held last December in Cancun, Mexico.
Figueres and others are concerned that pledges made by governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so far equal only 60 percent of what scientists say is required by 2020 to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 F) above preindustrial levels.
A swing back to fossil fuels presumably would worsen the effects of climate change, which many scientists say causes a melting of polar ice caps and glaciers, a rise in sea levels and extreme weather.
Before a tsunami ravaged Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex last month, the Paris-based International Energy Agency had estimated that nuclear plants would add 360 gigawatts of generating capacity to the global inventory by 2035.