REDUCING GREENHOUSE EMISSIONS

Doubts remain over commitment to COP6

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OTSU, Shiga Pref. — While environment ministers from the Group of Eight countries on Sunday managed to produce a joint communique, it remains to be seen whether the message will be strong enough to push forward dragging efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

Although most G8 leaders expressed their intention of having the Kyoto Protocol go into effect by 2002, there remains a number of controversial issues to be resolved by and during the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations convention on climate change (COP6) to be held at The Hague in November.

Many delegates who gathered here wanted to use the G8 environment ministers’ meeting to build up momentum for the Hague meeting and make it a success.

The wording in the G8 communique was a compromise between the U.S.-Canada group, which opposed including any timetable by which the Kyoto accord goes into effect, and the rest of the participants. In order for the Kyoto accord to go into force, it must be ratified by the countries responsible for 55 percent of the industrialized world’s total emissions in 1990. Ratification by the European Union, Japan and Russia would be enough, but the inclusion of the U.S., which accounts for 20 percent of the world’s emissions, is politically essential.

Issues to be addressed by the COP6 meeting include whether restrictions should be imposed on countries achieving their reduction targets by buying up surplus “emission credits” from other countries or paying for cleaner technologies in the developing world rather than implementing energy-saving measures domestically.

Another issue is how to make sure countries comply with their obligations.

If they fail to agree on such rules and guidelines at COP6, countries would not be able to ratify the Kyoto accord. Without specific programs and measures to achieve reduction targets, it would be impossible to see the protocol’s entry into force by 2002.

The Kyoto accord requires industrialized nations to cut their total greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. Specifically, Japan must cut emissions by 6 percent, the United States by 7 percent and the European Union by 8 percent.

Given the rising number of natural disasters linked to global warming, industrialized countries could be blamed for lacking a sense of crisis if they cannot even comply with the Kyoto protocol.

According to a 1999 United Nations report on natural disasters, the year saw a record number of floods, with 96 floods occurring in 55 countries.

An emphasis in the joint communique adopted here may encourage countries to take domestic measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions. While some European countries have already taken specific measures to that end, Japan has yet to take any effective and meaningful action.

Although Japan said it can achieve its target of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 6 percent from the 1990 level by such means as building 20 additional nuclear power plants, it has already revised its plan, reducing the number of plants to be built to 12.

Now that Environment Agency chief Kayoko Shimizu clearly stated after the three-day meeting here that Japan will ratify the Kyoto Protocol by 2002, it should start drawing up a scenario and specific measures to achieve its targets.

Strong political leadership will be needed to overcome factionalism of the bureaucracy and opposition from the industrial sector.