A two-week meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP14, is now under way in Poznan, Poland, with some 10,000 delegates and environmentalists from some 190 countries attending. The participants are supposed to discuss international efforts to combat global warming to be carried out in and after 2013.
At the December 2007 COP13 meeting held in Bali, Indonesia, the parties to the UNFCCC decided to work out and agree on a new framework to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol in a meeting to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009, which will be COP15. The Kyoto Protocol requires 37 industrialized countries and the European Union to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions by an average 5 percent from 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.
The Poznan meeting is an important halfway mark on the road to the major meeting in Copenhagen. Participating countries, which will review the Kyoto Protocol, face the task of making solid preparations for a new international climate change deal to be made in Copenhagen. They need to strengthen their determination to avert the serious consequences of the failure to fight global warming — including rising sea levels by several meters, loss of a large number of species, and shortage or lack of water for millions of people — and to commit themselves to working out an effective framework.
A vital issue in the course of talks will be whether to adopt long- and medium-term targets for reduction of greenhouse gases. At their summit held in Hokkaido last July and chaired by then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations made it clear that they will seek to share with other countries the long-term goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions at least by 50 percent by 2050.
But the G8 leaders failed to mention what year should be used as the base year. They did not lay down specific medium-term emission reduction targets for either 2020 or 2030. They said only that they acknowledged their leadership role and would implement economy-wide medium-term goals in order to achieve absolute emission reductions.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls on developed nations to cut emissions 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. The EU has decided to cut emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.
Discussion on long- and medium-term reductions goals have not gained momentum since the G8 summit. It is hoped that the Poznan meeting will offer a chance for the delegates to deepen their discussions on the matter.
The Kyoto Protocol suffered a great blow when the United States, the biggest greenhouse gas emitter, under President George W. Bush, withdrew from it in March 2001, saying the protocol was harmful to the U.S. economy and was unbalanced since it did not require developing countries, including China and India, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Although the U.S. delegation to the Poznan meeting was appointed by Mr. Bush, there is a ray of hope for future climate change talks since U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has expressed his desire for the U.S. to play a leading role in the fight against global warming. He has pledged to have the U.S. reduce emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.
In June, Mr. Fukuda announced that Japan will strive to cut its emissions 60 to 80 percent from current levels by 2050 but failed to announce a medium-term reduction goal. Since he suddenly stepped down in September, it’s as if the fight against global warming had disappeared from Japan’s political agenda. In October, emissions trading started in Japan, but it is on an experimental basis and its scope is limited.
The Kyoto Protocol requires Japan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. But it is unlikely that Japan will be able to fulfill its obligation. According to a preliminary report, Japan’s emissions in fiscal 2007 topped the fiscal 1990 emissions by 8.7 percent.
The participation of the U.S., China and India in actual reduction of greenhouse gases is vital to producing an effective international framework as these three countries are responsible for nearly half of global emissions. The most persuasive way to gain their cooperation would be for developed signatory countries to fulfill their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Japanese leaders should realize that if Japan appears unlikely to fulfill its obligation, Japan’s influence in the talks will wane.
In additional to concrete action to reduce emissions, Japan should make contributions in such fields as development of new gas-reduction technologies and technology transfer and financial help to developing countries. Japan and any other nation also should realize that efforts to transform themselves into low-carbon economies could be a big chance economically.
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