Extending the Kyoto Protocol

More than 190 countries on Nov. 26 started a new round of talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar, to discuss global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions believed to cause global warming.

Japan should reconsider its decision to oppose extension of the Kyoto Protocol beyond its expiration at the end of 2012. If it sticks with that decision, it will be difficult for it to play a constructive role in worldwide efforts to fight global warming.

The Doha talks, or COP 18, which last through Dec. 7, follow last year’s U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, in which the participants agreed to try to conclude a global treaty by 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If the treaty is concluded, it will take effect from 2020.

Although working-level talks were held in the past year, there was no remarkable progress due to big differences in opinion among participating countries.

In COP 18, it is imperative that they express a strong will to fight global warming and give impetus to the talks on the new treaty. Although COP 18 is not expected to produce a new treaty, participating countries must work out a concrete working plan that will contribute to expediting the treaty negotiations.

Another big task for COP 18 is forming agreement on what to do after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012 and before the new treaty takes effect — or extending the protocol to create a second commitment period. The pact requires industrialized countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average 5 percent in the 2008-2012 commitment period from the 1990 levels.

Japan has the obligation to reduce its emissions by 6 percent. The United States refused to ratify the pact, and Canada has withdrawn from it. Regrettably, Japan, New Zealand and Russia have decided not to take part in a second commitment period.

The European Union and Australia are playing a leading role in the talks on the new commitment period through their efforts to extend the Kyoto Protocol.

Japan has decided against extending the pact because of complaints from industrial circles that big emitters like the U.S. and China have no obligations to cut emissions and that the pact is unequal. Japan should recognize that its decision has weakened its influence in the climate talks and has deprived it of a chance to join the talks to extend and strengthen the pact.

Nonparticipation can also deprive Japan of incentives to vigorously push gas emission reduction policies inside Japan and thus encourage emerging economies to make similar efforts.

Japan should rethink its decision not to join the second commitment period through extension of the Kyoto Protocol. It should realize that strict domestic emission-reduction policies will motivate industries to make serious efforts that will eventually lead to innovations conducive to building a low-carbon society and lead to an expansion of employment opportunities.

This should be the approach to follow by a country that has suffered a serious nuclear disaster.