National

Japan expected to repeat little more than past promises at U.N. Climate Action Summit

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

With a major United Nations summit slated for Monday to tackle the global climate crisis, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ message to member countries was clear: come up with plans, not more speeches.

But it remains unclear what — if anything — Japan will bring to the table at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, which is expected to draw over 60 world leaders.

Millions of people took to the streets on Friday in 117 countries to call on governments to do more to address the crisis. Environmental activists call the U.N. meeting the most important climate conference since the 2015 U.N. Paris meeting.

In Japan, thousands of people turned out to demand the government take more effective and concrete action. The Tokyo chapter of march organizer Fridays For Future said there had been 27 marches in 23 prefectures.

“I want to convey the message that there are things that only Japan can do and that Japan will continue to take the initiative,” said Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi during a regular news conference on Friday. “I want to convey what Japan is doing, using various opportunities.”

Despite Koizumi’s upbeat comments, Tokyo has taken little to no action toward addressing the summit agenda. While other countries are expected to raise their targets for emissions reductions during the summit, Japan is likely to remain mum, reflecting its reluctance to do so.

Japanese environmental groups are keeping their expectations for Tokyo’s contribution low.

“Japan hasn’t prepared anything for the summit. No new policies and measures are expected to be announced,” said Kimiko Hirata, the international director of Kiko Network, Japan. “I assume Japan will reiterate measures (to reduce emissions) they’ve already taken.”

In June, the government approved a long-term energy plan calling for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in order to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which called for efforts to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees this century. The strategy includes a variety of measures that emphasize innovative uses of green technologies to meet the goal, including utilizing renewable energy as a major power source.

But the plan’s goal is for renewable energy to account for between 22 and 24 percent of Japan’s energy mix by 2030 — a target that has been attacked by NGOs and Japanese business groups as unambitious.

“Koizumi might say something about renewables in New York. But what he says isn’t related to the Japanese government’s real policy, even though things are changing and parts of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry want more ambitious targets” for renewable energy, said Mika Obayashi, director of the Tokyo-based Renewable Energy Institute.

In 2017, renewables accounted for 16 percent of the nation’s energy mix, according to the Agency for Natural Resources, part of METI.

One of the ways in which Guterres, who called for the summit, wants nations to do more on curbing emissions is to halt their support of coal.

Japan’s continued use of coal and its insistence on promoting coal use in other nations has created an international controversy. But no matter what Japanese representatives say at the New York summit Monday, activists expect it will be little more than a defense of the government’s coal policies.

“I think (the Japanese government) will end up repeating what they have been saying and try to keep the window open for remaining market opportunities,” said Ayumi Fukakusa, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth Japan.

“Even though there are less and less coal projects that Japanese banks and government can invest in, there are still some coal pipeline projects that they might be interested in financing, such as the Vung Ang II coal-fired power plant project in Vietnam and the Indramayu coal-fired power plant project in Indonesia,” she added.

The weekend’s climate change marches and Monday’s summit in New York come as extreme weather events linked to climate change cause ever more damage and concern. They also come at a time of increased warnings by scientists that far more drastic efforts need to be made — and quickly — by all governments to reduce their carbon emissions to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement.

That agreement committed governments to keeping the average global temperature rise to under 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels and to strive for an increase of only 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.

But current predictions by experts are that the world could see a rise of 3 to 5 degrees. Failure to meet the Paris goals, scientists warn, could lead to millions of deaths and unprecedented environmental destruction.

Yet even if the global temperature rise is held to 1.5 degrees by the end of this century, current projections for how human activity will change over the shorter term — especially economically and in terms of future labor productivity — are causing concern. The International Labor Organization predicted in July that economic losses due to heat stress at work, measured at $280 billion in 1995, could reach $2.4 trillion by 2030.

That is bad news, especially for those in Japan and Asia who will have to endure temperatures above 30 C, says the ILO’s Catherine Saget, who helped write the report,

“Temperatures above 24 to 26 degrees Celsius are associated with reduced labor productivity. At 33 to 34 degrees Celsius, a worker operating at moderate work intensity loses 50 percent of his or her work capacity,” she said. “Big cities are more likely to be affected too, as they can get significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas because of accumulation of heat in buildings and lack of vegetal cover.”

Saget said that, “In the short term, countries, enterprises and workers need to adapt to environmental challenges to prevent economic losses and reductions in labor productivity. This is particularly true in Asia — South Asia is the region most affected by heat stress.”

The alternative to not adapting, the world’s younger generations increasingly fear, is a future where they and their children will bear the brunt of the consequences of the current generation of adults who failed to take the necessary bold actions now to halt global warming.

“How many tens of millions of people will lose their homes by 2050? In 2100, what will be left?” asked high school student Saori Iwano, a member of Fridays For Future Tokyo, during a news conference Wednesday.

Information from Kyodo added

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