Climate confab kicks off in Kobe


KOBE — The invention of the Gutenberg Bible in the mid-15th century revolutionized printing and led to the Renaissance, mass literacy, and the industrial revolution, leading to the development of mass production and the use of fossil fuels.

Now, a half a millennium later, the world must find its way — and quickly — to a new renaissance, one utilizing modern technologies and scientific knowledge to combat the threats of climate change and global warming, one that is the result of industrial developments since Gutenberg’s time.

That was the message environment ministers from the Group of Eight heard from Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a top science adviser to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, in a keynote speech Saturday as they began a three-day meeting in Kobe to discuss how the G8 can address environmental issues at the summit in Hokkaido in July.

“We do not have much time left to leave the planet to future generations,” warned Kurokawa.

On the agenda at the three-day meeting, which also includes environment chiefs from 10 other countries, including major emitters China, India, and Brazil, are discussions about climate change and global warming, biodiversity and the concepts of reducing, reusing and recycling.

“Even though the G8 agenda has traditionally centered on political and economic issues, in recent years, attention has been paid to the environment. At the Hokkaido summit as well, environmental problems are one of the top items on the agenda,” said Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita.

Japan faces strong international pressure to use this year’s G-8 summit as a chance to help forge an international consensus on a post-Kyoto Protocol environment pact.

The Kyoto treaty expires in 2012, but the outline of a new agreement is to be hammered out at a United Nations’ meeting in Copenhagen in 2009.

It is a daunting task. Developed and developing countries remain bitterly divided on the issue of numerical targets for reducing emissions.

Within the developed countries, there is also much opposition, especially from industry, to a Kyotolike treaty with specific reduction targets.

At Saturday afternoon’s dialogue, which included G-8, non-G-8 and nongovernmental organization representatives, Ana Maria Fernandes of Brazil said the developed countries of the G-8 cannot set binding numerical goals for developing countries when they talk about action on climate change.

Both China and Brazil told the ministers that the G-8 must keep in mind that technology development and financing are necessary.

China also emphasized the importance of using energy resources efficiently.

While China and Brazil stated their opposition to forcing developing countries to adhere to specific targets, Hilary Benn, British secretary for environment, food, and rural affairs, said that concern about the economic impact of dealing with environmental issues is the same for all countries, but that the cost of acting now is less than the cost of delaying.

“All countries have to contribute,” Benn said. “The fundamental problem is political matters, and how do we divide up the responsibilities in a fair manner?”

Japan has proposed a sectoral approach to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. The plan proposes that specific industrial sectors worldwide commit to reducing greenhouse gases by a certain amount in exchange for technological assistance.

The Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), which includes members of Japan’s steel industry, voiced support for the sectoral approach. But the idea faces strong criticism internationally for lacking nationally quantifiable reduction commitments.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen Johnson reaffirmed America’s basic support for the Japanese idea of a sectoral approach, although he added that it was necessary to secure the support of each country’s top leaders.

James Howard of the International Trade Union Confederation, which represents 168 million workers in 155 countries, called on the G-8 to support the creation of “green jobs” within key industrial sectors and to work closely with labor ministries in formulating their environmental policies.

Biodiversity issues were also discussed, with some delegates calling on the G-8 to take more action to stop the illegal logging of old growth forests, which absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas.

A Japanese Environment Ministry official briefing reporters said Indonesia noted that, although there were wildlife sanctuaries on land to protect species, there were none in the sea.

With additional reporting by Shihoko Nagayama