WARSAW – The chief of the U.N. Environment Program urged Japan to keep playing a leadership role in the fight against global warming, although it faces a challenge caused by Fukushima nuclear disaster, which left most of its atomic plants offline.
“The world has in a sense believed in Japan as a leader and a pioneer. That is a brand many would like Japan to retain,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in an interview.
“There has been a tremendous disaster. That is very challenging for any country and there’s a lot of sympathy,” he said. “But I think the message hopefully from Japan is, ‘Look, we have a short-term challenge, but we have a full commitment to our long-term goal as a leader in addressing climate change.’ ”
Japan announced Wednesday at the U.N. climate talks in the Polish capital its new target of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 3.8 percent in fiscal 2020 from fiscal 2005 levels, assuming its nuclear power plants remain offline.
But the revised goal immediately drew international criticism because it represents an increase of about 3 percent in emissions from fiscal 1990, compared with the previous target of cutting emissions by 25 percent by fiscal 2020 from fiscal 1990 levels.
“I have a lot of understanding and empathy for Japan’s dilemma. I can also appreciate that there is a need for managing a short-term challenge,” Steiner said. But it is difficult to understand why Japan made the announcement at this time, he added.
“I think the more it can provide explanation and context of this decision, the more it will not be interpreted as a walking-away from its obligations and the process,” the executive director said.
The gap is “significant” between emissions cuts needed to achieve an international goal of preventing a rise in global temperature from exceeding 2 degrees above the pre-Industrial Revolution level and reductions pledged by major emitters, Steiner said.
“The ability to close the gap is beginning to disappear because the timeline is no longer there,” the UNEP chief said. It may become impossible to say next year or later the 2 degree target is achievable, he added.
At the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw, signatory nations on Saturday managed to avoid a last-minute breakdown, by agreeing to a modest set of decisions meant to pave the way for a new pact to fight global warming. Such a new framework is supposed to be adopted in 2015.
The executive director said he thinks the level of discomfort is growing among delegations as “increasingly there is a sense that we have not been able to change the parameters of national positions sufficiently in order to create a sense of momentum.”