The 17th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17) opened in Durban, South Africa, on Monday, with 195 countries taking part. The focus of discussions is on what to do after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the only binding climate agreement at present, expires at the end of 2012.

The treaty imposes greenhouse gas emission cuts on developed countries, with the commitment period set from 2008 to 2012, among other provisions.

COP17 continues through Dec. 9, but it is not expected to produce a long-term comprehensive framework requiring both developed and developing countries to cut emissions. Among the developing countries, however, there are calls for revising the protocol to create a second commitment period for reduction efforts by developed countries that are party to it.

Japan is vehemently opposed to such a revision, saying it will not accept any second commitment period obligations under an extended and revised Kyoto Protocol. It has even decided to withdraw from the Kyoto regime if a revision is adopted. Japan argues that the two major emitting countries — the United States and China — are not part of the current reduction efforts and that a comprehensive scheme participated in by both countries must be created. But it will be extremely difficult for the countries taking part in COP17 to strike such a deal. It is possible that a period could emerge in which there are no international obligations in place for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is regrettable that Japan has presented no concrete road map or strategy that will lead to an agreement on comprehensive emission reduction efforts.

If Japan sticks to its position, it will be criticized for trying to evade international obligations to reduce emissions. Given the negative impacts from climate change seen in various parts of the world, efforts to stop global warming must not slacken.

Japan should consider agreeing to accept emissions reduction obligations under a revised Kyoto Protocol. This would help induce the U.S. and China to play their due role in cutting emissions.

Japan’s industrial lobbies say that a revision of the Kyoto Protocol will severely weaken Japan’s industrial competitiveness. But reduction efforts will encourage the development of new technologies, thus helping to improve it.

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