Developing nations need to play a “meaningful” role in the post-Kyoto Protocol international framework on climate change, even though it may be difficult for them to accept — at least in the near future — binding caps on their greenhouse gas emissions, James Bartis, a senior policy researcher for the RAND Corporation, told the Feb. 1 symposium.

Bartis noted how the U.S. Senate — before the U.S. government negotiators agreed to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 — passed a resolution signaling that it would not ratify a treaty that did not address greenhouse gas emissions from developing countries.

While imposing numerical targets for cuts in emissions by industrialized nations, the treaty, from which the U.S. later pulled out, does not have any emission caps for developing countries.

The U.S. Senate “feared that the international competitive posture of the U.S. would be compromised” especially vis-a-vis emerging Asian economies like China and India, Bartis said. “These economic concerns are legitimate and they will continue.”

Even if the competitiveness issue is set aside, emissions by developing nations must be addressed because they account for a big portion of global emissions, he said. If Japan’s call for a 50 percent cut in global emissions by 2050 is to be achieved, for example, worldwide emissions must be reduced to about 15 billion tons annually, but China today emits a third of this amount, he pointed out.

But will it be realistic to expect emerging powers like China and India to accept a binding emissions cap? “The answer is almost surely no, if the cap is near their current emission levels. But probably the answer will be yes if the cap is very high, but that means the cap will have no impact over the next 10 or 15 years,” Bartis said.

“We should not expect developing nations to adopt per capita caps that are below those of developed nations. . . . It would be very difficult — if not impossible — to establish an equitable approach today to allocating binding long-term targets to all nations,” he said.

Given that developing nations face many pressing needs, including fighting poverty, raising living standards, sanitation and health care, as well as other environmental problems that pose immediate threats, “I suggest that over the next 10 to 15 years it is inappropriate even to consider binding caps” on the emissions by developing economies, Bartis said.

At the same time, some developing countries — especially major greenhouse gas emitters like China, India and Brazil — need to take effective measures to reduce the rate of growth of their emissions, he said. It should be made clear, Bartis argued, that developing nations, too, are responsible for the fight against global warming.

G8 climate concerns

As chairman of the annual Group of Eight summit to be held in Hokkaido in July — where climate change is expected to be a dominant topic — Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has emphasized the need for the inclusion of China and the United States in the post-Kyoto framework.

Taishi Sugiyama, leader of the climate policy project at the Central Research Institute of the Electric Power Industry, said Japan should first coordinate its views closely with the U.S. on what should be the effective international regime to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

He cautioned that if Japan as the summit host pushes for ambitious numerical goals for emission cuts as advocated by the European Union, it might end up committing itself to a system that will likely be incompatible with a future U.S. mechanism.

Whatever steps the U.S. comes up with to combat global warming will likely not be compatible with the Kyoto framework or any similar binding mechanism to be adopted after the treaty expires in 2012, Sugiyama said.

This would probably result in the coexistence of a new Kyoto Protocol-type mechanism and voluntary reduction efforts by the U.S. and other parties, and both sides may need to recognize each other, he noted. There may emerge a common, broad international framework that covers all the parties, but it will likely not be something that binds everybody under a single mechanism, he said.

Akihiro Sawa, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, said the G8 summit will be a good opportunity to deepen discussions in Japan on climate change because it will explore the issue from a variety of angles — including its geopolitical and energy security aspects.

But Japan should also be aware of the limitations of what it can achieve there because it will be the last G8 summit for U.S. President George W. Bush, said Sawa, the moderator of the symposium.

The next U.S. administration — especially if it is a Democrat — will most likely take a position different from Bush on global warming, he said. Fukuda, out of domestic political considerations for him to take initiatives on environmental diplomacy, might end up forging a summit agreement whose credibility might be in doubt, he warned.