With just weeks away from the start of the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), the international community should be ready to make serious efforts to work out an effective global agreement that will limit greenhouse gas emissions with the participation of the world’s biggest and second-biggest emitters — China and the United States. This is all the more important as the Earth suffers from unprecedented meteorological disasters attributed to global warming.
While efforts to mitigate global warming are urgently needed, there is a worrisome situation in Japan. Politicians and businesses don’t seem to have a sense of crisis concerning the impact of climate change on people and the environment in many parts of the world, including this country. COP21 will be held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, not only with representatives of 196 countries but also with scientists, businesspeople and members of nongovernmental organizations taking part. It should serve as a chance for lawmakers, bureaucrats, business circles and citizens in Japan to consider and carry out what they can do to help achieve an effective international consensus on measures to fight global warming.
As a run-up to COP21, a weeklong working-level international climate meeting was held in Bonn last month. Developing countries expressed strong dissatisfaction with a draft text of agreement submitted by the co-chairs. They said advanced economies should shoulder a large portion of the cost to fight climate change because developed countries are primarily responsible for past warming through their industrial activities. They called for not only a transfer of funds and technologies from industrialized nations to developing countries to help them with their transition to low-carbon energy, but also assistance to defend against rising sea levels and big storms. Due to the clash of opinions between developing and developed countries, the meeting ended Oct. 23 without a draft that could serve as the foundation for an agreement at COP21.
This development suggests the negotiations at COP21 will be a rough ride. With this in mind, Japan, as the world’s third-largest economy and No. 5 greenhouse gas emitter, should beef up its own efforts, including showing a positive attitude toward larger financial and technological assistance to developing countries, so that the participants in the conference can make compromises and reach a meaningful agreement.
Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which binds developed nations to specific goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and went into force in 2005, COP21 will discuss adopting a scheme of intended nationally determined contributions (INDC), under which individual countries submit their planned actions to reduce emissions and voluntarily carry them out. The purpose of this bottom-up approach is to encourage as many countries as possible to take part in the global effort to reduce emissions. However, it has a drawback. There is no guarantee that each country will faithfully implement its declared actions and a possible failure to achieve the worldwide target — limiting greenhouse gas emissions to a level by 2030 that will hold global temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius from the pre-Industrial Revolution level.
By the beginning of October, the deadline under the INCD scheme, 146 countries, or about 90 percent of the 196 parties to the climate change treaty, had submitted their plans. According to Climate Action Tracker, an independent assessment carried out by four research organizations that have been tracking the emission commitments and actions of governments since 2009, those countries’ plans would hold the global temperature increase to 2.7 degrees even if they are fully implemented.
The fact that baselines and timelines used for the planned actions under the INDC scheme vary from country to country makes comparisons difficult. Therefore it will be imperative for the countries participating in COP21 to agree on a system to regularly check each country’s actions, as called for by the secretariat of the climate change treaty. It will also be imperative for the countries to agree to declare long-term greenhouse gas emission targets for the period from 2050 to 2100, in addition to the short-term targets for 2025 to 2030.
Japan’s plan calls for decreasing its emissions by 26 percent by 2030 from the 2013 level. Since it has been made clear that the planned actions submitted by various countries are inadequate, Japan should make efforts both to attain the target ahead of schedule and to commit to a more ambitious goal.
To achieve its target and more, the logical path for Japan would be to introduce renewable energy sources on a large scale and carry out much more serious energy-saving efforts. The government’s plan to allow construction of more coal-burning thermal power plants is the opposite not only of this path but also of the global trend. It should immediately drop this irrational policy.
The time has come for people and businesses in Japan to stop dwelling on the idea that they can emit carbon dioxide freely without paying for the cost to the atmosphere. The government and business circles should start discussions on strengthening the carbon tax system and full introduction of the cap-and-trade system, which will impose limits on the amount of emissions by individual companies and allow the sale of emission rights from businesses who emit below the limits to others.
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