With Tuesday’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, Japan has taken a first step toward tackling the problem of global warming, which threatens modern civilization. Coming four and a half years after the protocol was approved at an international conference in Kyoto in 1997, the ratification is in line with the government’s international pledge and is expected to help increase Japan’s say in environmental matters. Such a role is supported by both public opinion and nongovernmental organizations here.

Fifteen European countries have already ratified the protocol, and when Russia and nations responsible for more than 1.8 percent of 1990 carbon dioxide emissions sign on it will be pushed into force. While this may be difficult to achieve in time for the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, which runs through early September, we hope that Russia will step up its ratification efforts.

Under the protocol, Japan is obliged to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 6 percent of the 1990 level on average between 2008 and 2010. This is an awesome task, indeed. Not only did the reduction of CO2 which accounts for the bulk of greenhouse-gas emissions, not make any headway in the 1990s, CO2 emissions have increased by about 10 percent over the 1990 level, so on balance Japan will have to achieve cuts of 13 percent when all six targeted greenhouse gases are included.

Is it possible to achieve such a reduction? Carbon dioxide is produced in all aspects of life. Whether you go for a drive in your car or watch soccer on television, you are increasing CO2 emissions. So our very lifestyles must be questioned.

Even when the protocol goes into effect, there will be no immediate obligation to reduce emissions. Countermeasures always tend to be put off, and in any case, it will not be possible to realize a quick reduction in CO2 emissions, which are produced by all kinds of human activities. Herein lies the difficulty.

Efforts are already being made to reduce emissions, for example through energy conservation, and new technologies are being introduced to promote a switch from the use of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, to carbon-free energy sources. It will be important to switch from a mass-production, mass-consumption and mass-waste society to a sustainable society.

The main problem now is the absence of the desire and resolution to make efforts toward such a reduction. And it cannot be denied that Diet discussion of the protocol was inadequate. Now is the time, immediately after ratification, to send a clear message that efforts must be made to reduce carbon dioxide. Some power companies have begun negotiations with Australian companies about trading emissions credits. Similar moves must be encouraged.

In order to achieve the protocol’s reduction targets, it is necessary to adopt flexible measures, such as the factoring in of forest sinks and emissions trading among countries. Priority, however, should be given to actually reducing the level of domestic emissions. New guidelines on the promotion of measures against global warming, decided upon by the government in March, follow conventional methods and rely on voluntary efforts by companies. The proposed dependence on a large-scale increase of nuclear power generation is unrealistic, too. It offers no guarantee that the promise to reduce emissions by 6 percent will be fulfilled.

Obligations under the Kyoto Protocol do not begin until 2008, but that is less than six years away. The sooner reduction measures are introduced, the less costly they will be. If we fail to begin taking countermeasures now, achieving reductions will become even more difficult. If Japan cannot achieve a domestic reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions and has to purchase large amounts of emissions credits from countries like Russia, it will be very expensive. That is the worst-case scenario.

To slow global warming, we must cut CO2 emissions in half by the middle of the 21st century. The Kyoto Protocol is the only means we have at the present time, but it is no more than a first step. There are still many problems to be solved, including gaining the participation of both the United States — the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide — which withdrew from the protocol, and developing countries — not covered by the protocol — whose greenhouse-gas emissions are rapidly increasing.

In a statement issued for World Environment Day on June 5, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan declared that the Earth was still in need of intensive care and called for sustainable development centered on growth, progress and environmental preservation. Protection of the global environment is the duty of modern humankind.

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