Case Study

Arun Khuttan: What YGN did at COP26

15 December 2021

Prospect member Arun Khuttan was the Young Generation Network’s lead for its COP26 campaign, events and activities. Here he talks about his work in the nuclear sector, his personal experience of COP26 and what next for the YGN.

Arun Khuttan

Arun Khuttan

Before we discuss Young Generation Network and COP26, what’s your day job?

I work for Magnox but for the last few months I’ve been on secondment at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, working with the sustainability team on how we can embed sustainability in the NDA, and across the wider NDA Group.

Tell us about the Young Generation Network

The YGN is part of the Nuclear Institute, the professional membership body for the nuclear sector and if you’re a member of the NI and you’re under 37, then you will automatically be a member of the YGN.

We currently have more than 1,200 YGN members and we just want to inspire opportunities for young professionals by encouraging and engaging with them. We want a diverse range of people to start careers in nuclear and we put on events to attract new professionals and also to help them develop.

What was the YGN’s plan for COP26?

In the last year, I’ve been most involved with COP26 and engaging with our plans for that.

Our mission for COP26 was to accelerate the ability of the world to achieve Net Zero by driving collaboration between nuclear and renewables and, ultimately, just wanting a clean, sustainable, abundant, and low carbon future for everyone.

There are more than 50 YGN’s globally and the European Nuclear Society asked the UK’s YGN to take the lead for COP26, as it was being hosted in Glasgow. Then, because of the pandemic, it was postponed for a year, which meant that we could do a lot more.

We put a team together and called for volunteers from various YGNs around the world, and I was able to lead a really dynamic team with people from Canada and Brazil, as well as from the UK.

A good place to start on all this is our Net Zero Needs Nuclear website and the Nuclear4Climate position paper that we have put together, which has been translated into 17 languages. That’s the backbone of our campaign.

Were you in Glasgow itself during the Summit?

Yes, we had more than 80 volunteers in the Blue Zone. The nuclear associations that come together for Nuclear for Climate had official observer status with the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which officially ran COP26. Official observers each get a number of badges to go into the Blue Zone every day.

I coordinated the efforts from YGNs and a lot of the associations agreed to give a certain number of the badges to YGN representatives from various countries. I think it was about 50 per week.

Overall, about 85 different individuals were there to participate, many of them from the UK YGN, and some of us were there for both weeks. We just went to talk to as many people as we could about nuclear, and we gave out branded merchandise like t-shirts and jackets with our logos.

NI YGN at COP26

YGN at COP26 (Credit: Twitter @NI_YGN)

What was the experience like being part of this massive global Summit?

Mixed feelings, definitely, and really overwhelming. The mix of people you get there is incredible: all the energy ministers and Prime Ministers, like Boris Johnson, all the way through to CEOs; young activists; influencers; and indigenous people.

It’s good to kind to interact with so many people and talk openly about nuclear with them, which is incredible.

There’s lots of media too, so we did a lot of interviews. I was quoted in the Wall Street Journal and my colleague Sophie was live on Sky News for about four minutes!

Then you have the legislators and the policy makers who are locked away in other rooms making the agreements that you don’t necessarily get to see a lot of. There was some great stuff but you’re also kind of helpless because you can’t directly influence those talks.

What next for the YGN?

It’s a good question. We’re still hashing out our strategy for the next year but there’s going to be a lot more focus on collaboration with other industries, such as the renewable sector.

We want to engage with more young people as the world opens up. There’s an event at the end of January, the New Scientist live event. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get to that.

One thing I’m personally hoping to do is that, at the moment, we’ve captured the nuclear industry’s attention, which traditionally moves very slowly. However, it’s changing rapidly, and I think there’s been a lot of recognition in the last 18 months of nuclear’s role in Net Zero. So, I’d like industry leaders to put some money behind some messaging and to talk about a strategic rebranding of nuclear.

Prospect knows how important nuclear is to achieve Net Zero but do people still ask why you’re in the nuclear industry, which they just see as a dirty fuel?

Very much so. One of the biggest questions we were asked at COP26, which was a bit surprising, was who’s paying for you to be here? Who are you funded by? Actually, a lot of us were using our annual leave just to be there!

Nobody ever asked what the wind company was doing there, and who was paying for that!? The Global Wind Energy Council had a massive stand there, as they should, but no-one questions that.

We need to be proud that we are climate heroes and that we’re working in a good sector, which is going to provide a prosperous future for us.


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