Two jointly announced government white papers — one on the environment and the other on the establishment of a recycling society — are the first such annual reports since the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty on global warming, went into effect in February following ratification by Russia in November. While 141 countries have ratified the treaty, some major countries such as the United States and Australia count themselves out.
The white paper on the environment calls for continuous efforts to prevent warming of the Earth and declares Japan’s determination to play a leading role in a global battle against climatic change. The document also reminds us that efforts to maintain environmental integrity must start at home among citizens and individual enterprises.
The fact that the Kyoto Protocol took effect earlier this year means that Japan is now under a legal obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent in the 2008-2012 period from 1990 levels.
Statistics show, however, that achieving the goal imposes a difficult challenge for Japan. In fiscal 2003, Japan emitted greenhouse gases equivalent to 1,339 million tons of carbon dioxide, or 8.3 percent more than the level in 1990. Thus Japan must reduce these emissions by 14.3 percent if it is to meet the obligation under the Kyoto Protocol.
The figures indicate that both business enterprises and private citizens must be seriously involved in the fight against global warming and that the government must lay down as soon as possible concrete targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, to help stop global warming. The white paper points out that increased energy consumption by households is responsible for about 14 percent of Japan’s total carbon-dioxide emissions.
There is no panacea for greenhouse gas emissions in a short time. But individuals can contribute to achieving the goal by paying more attention to their habits than before. The Environment Ministry spells out six concrete steps: keeping the room temperature at 28 C when using an air conditioner, shutting off the tap more frequently when brushing one’s teeth and on other occasions, buying and using eco-friendly products, reducing car-idling, refusing to buy things with excessive wrappings, and turning off electric appliances when not used.
Yet, even if the worldwide goals spelled out under the Kyoto Protocol are achieved, they are expected to slow the speed of global warming by no more than about 10 years. Moreover, the antiglobal warming treaty expires in 2013. Climate-protection efforts must continue beyond that point.
At present, developing countries are exempt from the obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The white paper noted a prediction that the total volume of greenhouse gas emissions from developing countries will top that of developed countries in 2010 at the earliest. As the white paper points out, it will become important to work out a scheme in which both developed and developing countries together reduce such emissions.
The white paper on the establishment of a recycling society reports that the amount of Japan’s garbage recently appears to have leveled off at about 50 million tons per year, which translates into 1.1 kg per day per person. Household garbage accounts for about two-thirds of total volume.
A welcome proposal in the document is to spread the spirit of the traditional Japanese phrase “mottainai” to communities everywhere. Mottainai refers to a feeling that something should not be thrown away or wasted because it has not yet been fully utilized or is still good.
This proposal actually originated with 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya, who suggested during her trip to Japan in February that this phrase be spread worldwide to get people to manage resources more sustainably.
Mottainai is linked with the “3R” movement pushed by the Environment Ministry: Reduce garbage volume, reuse resources, and recycle products.
In an encouraging sign, the recycling rate is increasing every year, according to the white paper. In certain communities, residents are required to divide garbage into more than 20 categories to facilitate recycling, or pay fees for garbage collection. Some shops are considering charging customer fees for vinyl wrapping bags or asking customers to bring their own bags to carry purchased goods.
These moves are encouraging because the participation of communities and individuals in the effort to reduce garbage is essential. However, it is the job of central and local governments, equipped with the teeth of law enforcement, to effectively cope with the large-scale dumping of garbage and other materials.
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