Editorials

Japan should play a proactive role on climate change

The process for reviewing the targets of parties to the Paris climate change agreement for curbing their emission of global warming gases has gotten underway during working-level talks in Germany. The 2015 Paris agreement set a goal of keeping the postindustrial rise in average global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius to avert catastrophic consequences from climate change. The problem is that the combined voluntary plans to cut emissions announced by countries in the lead-up to the accord will fall far short of keeping the rise in global temperatures within 2 degrees — possibly allowing the increase to reach 3 degrees.

The agreement therefore stipulates that the emissions reduction plans of each country will be regularly reviewed and updated. The working-level talks that started in Bonn this week to discuss detailed rules of implementation of the accord — which must be concluded by the COP 24 United Nations climate change conference in December in order to put the treaty in motion in 2020 — also open the discussions on reviewing the emissions reduction targets. Japan, whose efforts in combating climate change are deemed to lag behind many other advanced countries, should play a more proactive role in leading international discussions on the endeavor by making more ambitious plans for cutting its own emissions.

The Paris agreement calls for reducing to zero the net emission of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide in the latter half of this century. That will require a transition to a post-carbon society involving far-reaching changes to government policies and economic activity. A report recently compiled by a Foreign Ministry panel of experts proposed that Japan should make its initiatives for global transition to a post-carbon society a major pillar of its diplomacy — and that the nation would succeed in gaining international trust for such initiatives only when they are backed up by its own domestic efforts and achievements.

Japan’s target put forward for the Paris climate pact calls for a 26 percent reduction in its emission of global warming gases in 2030 from the 2013 levels. But the target is deemed inflated since the base year was set in 2013, a time when carbon dioxide emissions sharply increased after the 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant prompted power companies to bring their nuclear power plants offline and fire up thermal power plants. That reduction would be pared to 14 percent if the base year was set instead at 1990. The European Union, for example, has set a goal of cutting the bloc’s emissions by 40 percent in 2030 from the 1990 levels.

As the world’s fifth-largest emitter of global warming gases, Japan needs to launch domestic discussions for updating its emissions reduction target. However, the stage does not appear set for such discussions. The Environment Ministry says it’s hard to discuss upgrading the target yet because the target is based on the power supply mix for 2030 set by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which in turn says it has no plans to review the energy mix target for now. Also not making progress is the discussion for creating a long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy, which the parties to the Paris agreement is to “strive to formulate and communicate” by 2020. Japan and Italy are the only Group of Seven countries that have yet to submit a long-term strategy.

The Foreign Ministry panel says Japan’s emissions reduction target is internationally considered as “highly insufficient.” The nation’s target has to be upgraded anyway, along with those of other countries in the Paris climate change accord, for the pact to achieve its goal. Japan has yet to build a consensus on introducing the carbon pricing policy — such as emissions trading and carbon taxation — while the policy gains ground in many other countries from Europe to North America and Asia as an effective tool for the transition to a post-carbon society. Compared with the carbon taxes launched in other countries, the rate of climate change tax introduced in Japan is too low to have an effect, while discussions for an emission trading system have gone on for more than 10 years without creating such a mechanism on a national level, the panel points out, calling for the early introduction of carbon pricing policies set at more effective levels.

The panel calls the Group of 20 summit that Japan will be hosting next year a prime opportunity for the nation to rally from behind and take leadership of efforts to combat global warming. For that, the government, as the panel suggests, should take the lead for a radical upgrade of its emissions reduction plans “to set an example for the world.” It is indeed a chance for Japan to boost its presence in the global fight against climate change.