As the CEO of an environmental charity, I recently led a delegation of Coalition MPs to the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai. This annual event is a cornerstone in our commitment to achieving net-zero emissions, and it was heartening to observe a notable shift in the discourse surrounding climate change.

Traditionally, COPs have been dominated by ideological fervour, with an emphasis on rapid phase-out of fossil fuels. However, this year brought a refreshing dose of pragmatism to the table. The stark realization that fossil fuels continue to power 80% of the world's energy demand after 150 years has prompted a reconsideration of our approach. It is clear to many that we cannot eliminate these sources overnight, necessitating a focus on optimizing existing technologies to expedite the transition – a key realization being the role of nuclear power.

For the first time in COP history, nuclear energy took centre stage. I had the privilege of attending the ground-breaking event on December 2nd, opened by President Macron, where the declaration "Tripling Nuclear Energy by 2050" was signed by more than 22 countries. This marked a significant milestone, highlighting the growing momentum behind nuclear energy as the world's second-largest source of clean electricity.

My chance encounter with President Macron soon after his speech underscored the global significance of this shift. While mentioning the nuclear advancements, he lamented Australia's absence from the initiative, emphasizing that the country should seriously consider nuclear energy. 

As part of our efforts to keep legislators abreast of evolving technologies, we brought Ted O'Brien, our shadow minister for Climate Change and Energy, to COP28. We hosted an important event in the Blue Zone: “Australia’s Nuclear Energy Potential: Joining the Global Journey” with an expert panel including the World Nuclear Association, the Nuclear Industry Council, and the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation. Ted's succinct presentation emphasized the importance of adopting an "all of the above" approach to reduce emissions, urging technological agnosticism. The event garnered significant media attention, with outlets like SMH, The Guardian, ABC, Fin Review, and The Australian covering the call for a nuanced approach to nuclear energy in our country. Video Recording of the event:

Another feature of our COP delegation program was to visit the Barakah nuclear power plant in the UAE, which provided a first-hand understanding of their choice to embrace nuclear energy. I asked their Chief Operating Officer why the UAE decided to develop a nuclear industry when the region is blessed with abundant sun and wind. He explained that nuclear serves as their insurance policy, ensuring a clean and constant energy supply even on days when the sun doesn't shine, or the wind doesn't blow. This site alone will supply 25% of all the UAE’s energy needs once all units are in operation.

In my pursuit of understanding the financial aspects of the Barakah plant, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) enlightened me on the noteworthy returns emerging from the $20 billion invested in the project. Beyond the realm of energy production, the project has yielded substantial financial gains and diverse commercial advantages. Notably, UAE companies have successfully secured contracts totalling US$6.7 billion, with a focus on supplying green steel and green aluminium. Additionally, the CFO highlighted an impressive saving of approximately US$1 billion in gas bills — an outcome directly attributed to the nuclear energy venture. These economic benefits extend beyond the financial realm, manifesting in the creation of numerous job opportunities within the burgeoning nuclear energy sector.

Having returned home, the pressing need to address climate change and secure a sustainable energy future has become even more apparent to me. Achieving these crucial goals requires a decisive departure from partisan politics. A pragmatic strategy, firmly anchored in scientific evidence, dedicated to ensuring long-term stability, fostering global collaboration, seizing economic opportunities, prioritizing public health, embracing technological advancements, and bolstering resilience against global challenges, is essential. This approach is indispensable for crafting energy policies that are not only impactful but also enduring.

Australia faces the challenge of catching up with the dynamic discourse surrounding clean technologies. The success of our nuclear event at COP28 underscored a growing interest in nuclear energy. Australia must position itself as a leader in adopting clean technologies, including nuclear, to fulfil its commitment to environmental stewardship and tap into promising commercial opportunities. The landscape of global energy is evolving, and Australia must keep pace with these changes. The times have indeed changed, signalling that Australia must adapt and lead in navigating the shifting dynamics of global energy beyond 2050.