Hasten efforts to put Paris accord into action

The recent COP 23 United Nations climate change talks exposed a serious divide among parties to the 2015 Paris Agreement over the rules of implementation of the accord to combat global warming. The conference held in Bonn, Germany, in mid-November was the first since the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump announced the country’s departure from the Paris accord in June. As one of the leading advanced economies and major emitters of greenhouse gases, Japan is urged to take the lead for moving the process forward for achieving the goal of eliminating net carbon dioxide emissions in the latter half of the century by revamping its own efforts against climate change.

Unlike in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which imposed the duty of reducing greenhouse gas emissions solely on industrialized nations, both advanced and developing economies are committed to the fight against climate change under the Paris accord by setting voluntary goals for cutting their emissions. The problem is that the targets set by the parties so far won’t realize the pact’s goal of keeping the rise in global temperatures to within 2 degrees of pre-industrial levels. The agreement envisages efforts by the participating countries to keep upgrading measures to trim their emissions.

Ahead of the COP 23 conference, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the world’s average temperature in the first nine months of this year was 14.8 degrees — or an increase of 1.1 degrees since before the industrial revolution. That means the world is already past the halfway point to the climate change that the Paris accord is seeking to avert. It is estimated that the total emission of greenhouse gases must be contained within roughly 1,000 gigatons to keep the rise in global temperatures within 2 degrees, but nearly two-thirds that amount has already been emitted. If countries keep emitting gases at the current pace, total emissions are forecast to break the threshold in less than 30 years.

Despite the urgency, the COP 23 conference made little progress toward implementing the Paris accord. The Nov. 7-18 meeting highlighted not only differences between developed and developing economies but also between small island countries whose survival is threatened by rises in sea levels due to global warming and oil-producing nations that feel endangered by the drive against fossil fuels.

For the agreement to be put into action in 2020 as planned, the participating countries need to concur on the detailed rules of its implementation by the next COP 24 conference, to be held in late 2018. While the countries managed to adopt a resolution promoting international efforts to fight climate change by extending the conference by one day, the agreement reached in the meeting mainly concerned procedural matters over how to proceed with future discussions, with much of the differences over substance of the rules carried over to next year’s meetings.

Although the issue was not on the agenda of the COP 23 conference, moves toward phasing out the use of coal in power generation — which emits more carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel — accelerated among the participants as a measure to combat climate change. Twenty countries, including Britain, Canada and France, as well as seven local governments, including the U.S. state of Oregon and the Canadian city of Vancouver, launched what they called the Powering Past Coal alliance. Britain, where coal accounted for 40 percent of electricity generation in 2012, pledged to end coal-fired power by 2025, while France and Canada said they would shut down coal-fired electricity plants by 2023 and 2030, respectively.

Those moves are in stark contrast to Japan’s policy. Plans are afoot here to build more than 40 new coal-fired thermal power plants, including some whose construction has already begun, as power companies favor the low cost of coal. The government expects coal to account for 26 percent of the nation’s electricity supply by 2030.

Japan also offers aid to and invests in the construction of coal-fired power plants abroad. While the COP 23 conference was being held, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation extended loans for a project involving Japanese firms to build such a plant in Indonesia. There are similar plans in Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. The Japanese government says aiding the construction of highly efficient coal plants will help those developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Concern persists, however, that the carbon dioxide that will be emitted from these plants for decades while they are in operation threatens the transition to a post-carbon economy. As part of its effort to combat climate change, Japan should reconsider its continued reliance on coal for its own power generation and its promotion of coal-fired plants overseas.