Japan must go green

In releasing the first part of its fifth assessment report on Sept. 27, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that temperatures are likely to rise by 0.3 to 4.8 degrees Celsius and sea levels could rise by 26 to 82 cm by the end of the 21st century compared with the latest 20 years.

The report, which follows one released in 2007, said that as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, more heat waves, floods and droughts will take place, and sea levels will rise as oceans warm and glaciers and ice sheets melt.

The IPCC is scheduled to release a series of four additional reports from this year to autumn of next year, including a report on the effects of global warming on people’s lives and ecosystems.

It is clear what governments must do to prevent the disastrous effects of climate change: reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by shifting toward greener energy sources. But the international community has failed to adequately respond to the warnings that scientists have been making and to take necessary actions in a timely manner.

Japan’s efforts to fight global warming have flagged in recent years. The Abe administration in particular has done virtually nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote renewable green energy. The Japanese government must take the latest report seriously and start taking concrete efforts immediately. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other government leaders concerned must change their business-as-usual outlook and become serious about tackling climate change.

According to the report, the world’s average temperature rose by 0.85 degree Celsius between 1880 and 2012, and the world’s average sea level rose by 19 cm between 1901 and 2010. Sea levels have likely risen by an average 3.2 millimeters per year between 1993 and 2010. It also warned that concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and dinitrogen oxide in the atmosphere have reached unprecedented levels in the past 800,000 years, and that because oceans absorb 30 percent of carbon dioxide attributable to human activities, they are becoming more acidic.

The report stated that scientists are 95 percent certain that human activities have been the main cause of climate change since the mid-20th century. Although the report admitted that there has been a hiatus in global warming in this century — slower temperature rises despite growing emissions and the Arctic ice cap expanding by 29 percent in the past year — it stated that the phenomenon is a natural variation that would not last.

Succinctly summarizing the message of the report, Mr. Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), said, “Climate change is a long-term challenge but one that requires urgent action — not tomorrow but today and right now — given the pace and the scale by which greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere and the rising risks of a more than 2-degree Celsius temperature rise.”

It is regrettable that data since 1990 — the year when the IPCC released its first report — show that Japan’s efforts to tackle global warming have stagnated. Although Japan’s economic growth has slowed down and its population is shrinking, its emissions of carbon dioxide due to energy use have increased by about 10 percent, resulting in an increase in the average amount of carbon dioxide emitted per capita. Japan’s edge in energy saving over other nations has become almost nil as Europe has caught up with Japan in its efforts to reduce CO2 emissions for every unit of gross domestic product. In the meantime, per capita CO2 emissions in the United States have fallen and its total emissions are rapidly decreasing.

The contrast between Japan and Germany is stark. Germany, the world’s No. 4 economy, has managed to grow economically while greatly reducing CO2 emissions through the expansion of green energy sources and energy savings.

Japan, meanwhile, has failed to introduce strong energy saving regulations and emissions trading, and was slow to start imposing a carbon tax. It has also taken few steps to promote green energy. So when Japan was forced to shut down its nuclear reactors in the wake of 3/11, it had no choice but to expand its thermal power generation, including the burning of coal.

On May 30, 2011, following the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Germany decided to abandon nuclear power within 11 years. Since then it has accelerated the expansion of renewable energy sources and strengthened its energy saving measures. Meanwhile, moves toward a carbonless society in Japan have stalled and its economy is suffering from rises in the prices of imported energy resources.

Political and business leaders in Japan have failed to recognize that measures designed to reduce CO2 emissions are an investment in the future. They are obsessed with the idea that such measures are an economic burden. But measures to reduce CO2 emission boost international competitiveness because they promote the efficient use of available resources and minimize the release of industrial waste, which takes a costly toll on the environment and people’s health.

Japan must carry out the following measures in earnest: strengthen efforts to conserve energy, expand emissions-trading and carbon-tax measures, improve the system under which major power companies purchase electricity generated from renewable energy sources at fixed prices, and separate electricity distribution from major power companies, which now monopolize both electricity generation and distribution. The latter measure would help encourage entry into the market by companies that will generate electricity from renewable resources.

Japan is now paying dearly for its lack of effort to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. Since it is clear what Japan must do, its political leaders should stop listing reasons for doing nothing and instead take decisive steps forward.

Only when Japan begins to take concrete actions at home can it make meaningful contributions in the international community’s ongoing discussions on forming a new framework to fight climate change. Talks on the content of the framework must be concluded by the end of 2015, and the framework is scheduled to start in 2020. Japan’s political leaders must realize that little time is left and begin to take action now.

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ andrew Sheldon

    The government needs to get some critical analysis performed on climate science. If they did that they would reach the conclusion that their they are doing the right thing by note getting cajoled by the extortion racket which is the green movement on a fund-raising drive.

  • pmagn

    Excellent article. This sums up very nicely what has to be done. If we could just get our leaders and law makers to have the courage by supporting them. And this is where the media comes in. It has to set the context for this. Keep up the good work JT.

  • dd

    What’s going on in Germany is really exciting and something the whole world can emulate. I also think it’s good to mention the success of the FIT program here. Japan is now the leading solar market in the world – though it probably won’t stay that way for long – and in my neighborhood alone, 8-10% of the houses now have an installation, whereas there was almost nothing just two years ago.

    Is it too little too late? possibly but some inroads are being made and I think Japan is one country that if a collective decision is made to go green, the adjustments can be made quickly by its citizenry compared to many other countries.

    As to the first post, I would love to read some critical analysis, it’s good to consider varying opinions, but you must also admit that an overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree with the IPCC and many say the IPCC is too conservative in its estimate. Still there is a degree of the unknown and in that sense this is all Pascal’s wager, so why not go green, anyway?

  • Starviking

    “It is clear what governments must do to prevent the disastrous effects of climate change: reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by shifting toward greener energy sources.”
    I would suggest, that if the Japan Times thinks that our greenhouse gas emissions will be disastrous (as I do) , that the end of the quoted sentence above needs changed to “non-greenhouse gas emitting energy sources”.
    Time to turn the NPPs back on.

  • Viva75

    Reading the comments…incredibly discouraged by the number of people who refuse to believe what is now being regarded as scientific fact. Scientists have formed consensus… the world IS warming, and it is 95% certain being largely caused by humans. The rate of increase is way too fast to be natural, and CO2
    levels are higher than they’ve ever been since human existence. And the warming is happening faster than initially expected.

    The only way you can continue to reject human-induced global warming is if
    you are truly ignorant and unwilling to reconsider your position. And
    until we don’t at least agree there is a problem, we can do nothing to
    mitigate the coming impacts.

    I am not actually sure which is scarier – climate change or the ignorance of the masses. There is no better proof of climate change than my own country of Australia. We are receiving unpredictable weather extremes in our country now that are not cyclical or normal. Whole climate patterns have changed, there have been record dry spells, record rain in the tropical regions and record high temperatures throughout. One of these ‘once in a generation’ events are now happening all in the same year, year on year. This is not cooky eco gibberish or asking people to act on ‘faith’, as Mr Sheldon has put it, it is quite simply, unequivocal proof (at least my country) of climate change that IS happening before our eyes and in a very, very short period of time. The burden of proof is now squarely on the doubters.

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ andrew Sheldon

    Its inconsequential whether a causal link shows correlation or not, if a non-causal link can as well. The only point of differentiation is ‘knowing’ the factors that give rise to an effect. You can’t use a model, derive flawed output, then twig the model in the vane hope it will get it right…get it wrong a dozen other times, but claim you’ll be right eventually, and that we should trust you on faith. Science is not rational; its not rationalism, its not a popularity contest, its not selective thinking. How come the message that the earth was not warming for 16 years was so hard to acknowledge. Why is it hard to acknowledge that 3/4s of Antarctica is not melting; but cite the 1/4 that is. Its important that a generation ago, entry grades into science degrees were lowered to attract people. Ask yourself why people don’t respect science anymore, that we need to employ ‘relative dumb’, less efficacious thinkers to the task.