HIKONE, SHIGA PREF. – This summer is unusual. There have been many ultra-hot days in which the mercury has risen above 35 degrees Celsius. Cloudbursts have occurred frequently, while some areas are suffering from extremely low precipitation, creating fears of water shortages.
Such abnormalities do not appear to be limited to Japan. Heat waves are said to have hit Europe and China for many days.
The 14th Group of Seven Summit, in Toronto (June 1988), marked the first time when problems related to global warming were taken up at an international forum. At a multinational meeting on the global environment that took place a week later in Toronto under the Canadian government’s sponsorship, conferees heard a shocking simulation-based report that if carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continued to rise at the then prevailing rate, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere would double by the end of the 21st century, raising the ground-level temperature by 3 degrees and elevating sea levels by 60 cm.
Subsequently, in June 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
At the third Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP3) in Kyoto in December 1997, an agreement was adopted to reduce the annual average emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs, which include not only CO2 but also methane and substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons) by all of the industrialized countries by at least 5 percent from the 1990 levels in the five-year period from 2008 to 2012. As a means of attaining this goal, each of the 40 advanced nations was allocated a numerical reduction ratio.
Interest in climate change peaked in 2007 after the publication of “An Inconvenient Truth,” a book written by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, and release of a movie with the same title, both of which educated citizens about climate change.
Between January and April 2007, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fourth report. Its main points were that the impact of global warming would result in rising temperatures and changes in precipitation in the medium to long term, and in more frequent and intensified climate change in the short term. Therefore, the impact would not only be felt by future generations but was already being felt by the current generation; and that it was “very likely” that the warming and climate change were caused by the rising concentration of CO2 and other GHGs in the atmosphere. The Nobel Peace Prize for that year was awarded to the IPCC and Gore.
Presumably with this global trend in mind, Shinzo Abe in his first stint as prime minister surprised the participants of an international symposium on the future of Asia by declaring in his opening speech on May 24, 2007, that by the year 2050, the world’s total GHG emissions should be halved from the level prevailing at the time.
At a U.N. summit meeting on climate change on May 24, 2009, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged to the world that by 2020 Japan would reduce its GHG emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels.
“The Basic Energy Plan,” released by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy in June 2010, stated that in order to achieve the target set out in the Hatoyama initiative, it would be “necessary” to raise Japan’s dependence on nuclear power in its total electricity generation to 41 percent in fiscal 2019 and to 53 percent in 2030.
Building new nuclear power plants and expanding existing ones were regarded as the ultimate answer for mitigating climate change. But the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011 led to suspension of the operation of all 53 nuclear power plants in Japan.
I think it utterly puzzling that few arguments have been made linking this year’s heat waves and local cloudbursts to global warming and climate change. I think there are three reasons for this:
First, proponents of the expansion of nuclear power generation have lost steam since the Fukushima disaster. As construction and expansion of nuclear power plants are no longer considered the ultimate answer for mitigating climate change, not only the power industry but also other industries have lost interest in climate change.
Second, the general public has also felt less concern over climate change as Abe’s government has pursued a strategy of leading people to concentrate on the economy. His administration has made virtually no mention of environmental issues. Thus mass media have stopped taking them up.
Third, since the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC ended in 2012, Japan, along with the United States, Russia and New Zealand, no longer has any target for GHG reductions for the second commitment period of 2013 to 2020.
I would like to add that there has been no change whatsoever in the level of interest shown in climate-change issues by European countries and the U.S.
Takamitsu Sawa is president of Shiga University, Japan.