Business

G20 envoys assemble in Nagano to discuss climate change and plastic waste

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Environment and energy ministers from the Group of 20 economies gathered in this resort town on Saturday to find innovative ways to combat emissions-driven climate change and eliminate plastic waste. But Thursday’s attacks on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, including one operated by a Japanese company, also raised fears among the delegates about energy security.

“Japan is paying close attention to the situation with great concern,” Minister for Economy, Trade, and Industry Hiroshige Seko told the G20 delegates Saturday afternoon.

“It is vital for the international community to respond collaboratively to such incidents from the perspective of ensuring global energy security,” he added.

To achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement, which sets a goal of making efforts to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees by the end of this century, developing new environmental technologies will be crucial.

On Saturday morning, Seko outlined Japan’s long-term strategy to lower its carbon footprint and contribute to achieving the Paris goals.

“We’re aiming for a ‘decarbonized society’ through a virtuous cycle of innovation as an ultimate goal, while taking bold measures towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050,” he told the ministerial meeting.

To help meet that goal, Japan is promoting the use of hydrogen fuel, and carbon capture and utilization technologies.

The latter initiative aims to capture emissions and store them for disposal or alternative uses. But they have long been controversial due to the technological difficulties involved in making them effective and concerns about their cost performance.

International pressure on G20 members to stop using coal is continuing to grow and is creating questions for governments and companies about whether large-scale investment in carbon capture and utilization will be worth the effort — especially if financial institutions are no longer willing to help fund coal mining and the shift to nonfossil fuels continues.

However, with recent warnings by the scientific community that the world must do more, and quickly, to reduce emissions to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees, carbon capture and utilization technologies are again being considered by some G20 leaders.

Last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said carbon capture and storage was needed for Germany to meet its mid-century climate goals.

Plastic pollution, especially in marine environments, was another key issue discussed during the Karuizawa meeting, which will wrap up Sunday.

The United Nations Environment Programme estimates 300 million tons of plastic waste are disposed of worldwide every year, with 8 million tons ending up in the oceans.

Calls for an international treaty banning single-use plastic waste are growing, but the G20 membership is divided on how to address the issue.

In Karuizawa, the emphasis was on developing technologies and products to reduce the use of plastic and measures to curb the use of plastic bags in Japan.

To that end, Seko said Japan would pursue having all stores charge customers for plastic bags, and that the government was aiming to have the policy take effect by April 2020.

Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada added that innovation is the key to solving the problem of marine plastic waste in particular.

“To facilitate global innovation, it is vital to share best practices from each country and learn from each other. At this G20 meeting, Japan is proposing to establish a framework to implement voluntary actions by each G20 member as well as share and update their activities,” he told the delegates.