Last month the 15th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP15) closed by announcing the Copenhagen Accord drawn up by major participating countries. Although the process produced some positive results — such as calls for steps to hold the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius and to streamline the mechanism for funding developing nations — agreement on a new framework to succeed the Kyoto Protocol was put off. Signatories were asked to work for a new strategy formulation.

COP15 provides two lessons for the international community. The first is the realization of how difficult consensus building is at the global level. Neither the European Union, which had continued to take the lead on the global warming issue, nor Japan, which had proposed a drastic 25 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels, were able to take the initiative at the conference.

An agreement drafted with the two major polluting countries — the United States and China — playing a central role was not adopted because of objections from small countries. As long as the U.N. unanimous-agreement formula continues, adopting a resolution will be almost impossible.

The second lesson is that it is extremely difficult to settle on a measure that will ensure a balance between the economy and the environment. Developing countries, while demanding that advanced nations acknowledge their historical responsibilities by making drastic emissions cuts, continued to reject requests to accept the imposition of emissions restraints on themselves. They feared that their economic growth might be restricted. The question of whether binding control measures and market functioning can go together remains unresolved.

By Jan. 31, advanced nations are required to submit their emissions-cut targets for 2020; and developing countries, their emissions-control action plans. Signatory countries are supposed to look for new methods to address the issue. Three options should be considered:

Formulate an international framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Continuation of the cap-and-trade formula on which the Kyoto accord is based is no longer feasible. Whether the pledge-and-review formula can serve as the foundation of a new framework will become a point of contention. That mechanism calls for the respective countries to pledge emissions cuts based on the world’s total allowable emissions and on the content and results of the pledges to be reviewed internationally.

I think this is an effective and practical method under the circumstances, although China, despite persuasive efforts by the U.S. at COP15, refused to accept international inspection unless it receives international assistance.

Work out an emissions-cut mechanism on a group basis.

During the leadup to COP15, a number of mechanisms for cooperation, including the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, were in operation, as their utilization was strongly called for. These cooperative ties resemble the relationship between the World Trade Organization and free trade agreements.

I propose utilizing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), which is rich in flexibility and has already addressed energy and environment problems. I am interested in the fact that the three largest economic powers — the U.S., China and Japan — participate in the forum. This year Japan will chair an APEC meeting. If a common framework can be worked out, the forum could present the world with an exemplary mechanism for cooperation.

Let countries take their own measures.

China and India have already announced their respective emissions-cut targets. It is hoped that signatory nations will consider world opinion and available technological knowhow in taking policy measures aimed at achieving maximum possible reduction targets that match their national circumstances. Some countries might implement environmental taxes, domestic emissions rights trading or technological policy measures for emissions control.

From hereon the signatories will step up discussion on a new framework in preparation for COP16. The U.S., China and India will probably hold the key to the success of that process.

The Japanese government is reported to be planning to submit its target of a 25 percent emissions cut by 2020 from 1990 levels — “premised on agreement on ambitious targets by all the major economies.” I don’t think this precondition will hold; still, it’s important that Japan take the lead in the reform of lifestyles, industrial structures and technological systems, present a practical reduction target and control its greenhouse gas emissions.

If Japan can show an excellent model of improved energy efficiency and environmental protection to developing countries by utilizing the technical capabilities it has accumulated up to now, the impact will be great. And it will receive high praise from other nations if, in addition to expanding financial assistance to developing countries, it endeavors to accelerate measures to protect intellectual property rights and promote technology transfers.

My view is that Japan should contribute to the world particularly in the field of substantive structural reform.

Shinji Fukukawa, formerly vice minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and president of Dentsu Research Institute, is currently chairman of the Machine Industry Memorial Foundation.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.