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U.N. climate chief urges ministers to show their cards

by Eric Johnston

KOBE — The United Nations’ top climate-change official expressed concern Saturday about what Japan means by “industrial sectoral” approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and warned that the concept should not replace national targets in any new environmental treaty that would take effect when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

“Recent statements in the Japanese media have made it less clear what Japan’s intentions are vis a vis sectoral approaches. There have been statements that sectoral approaches are far superior to national goals and these create the impression that one is intended to replace the other,” said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in an interview with The Japan Times Saturday evening.

“The G8 environment ministers’ conference represents an opportunity for Japan to make clear what, exactly, it means,” he said.

While de Boer described Japan’s Cool Earth initiative to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as “interesting,” he said the greater need was for a midterm reduction target.

“This environment ministers’ meeting will be an excellent litmus test to see what G8 leaders meeting in Hokkaido can actually deliver. There is lots of talk about a goal for the middle of the century. But the G8 countries must give a much clearer indication what their emissions are to be in 2020,” he said.

De Boer also said it was the responsibility of the G8 to come up with clear incentives for developing countries to sign onto a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty that commits them to specific targets.

“It’s very clear that, for the United States, Australia, Canada, and Japan, it’s essential that developing countries engage in the next round (of climate change talks for a treaty with targets).” he said. “But what are the rich countries willing to put on the table to make such participation a reality?”

De Boer said last year’s Conference of the Parties 13 conference in Bali was a great breakthrough, in that it formally launched negotiations for a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty.

“For the first time, we talked about real, measurable and verifiable actions for developing countries to reduce their emissions,” he said. “But that breakthrough has created a great sense of nervousness in the international community, and we need to turn the words into something real.”