Editorials

Step up Japan’s role in fighting climate change

A crucial United Nations conference in the international fight against climate change has begun in Poland. At stake is whether the nearly 200 participating countries can agree on concrete rules to implement the 2015 Paris agreement by the year-end deadline. The urgency of efforts to combat global warming has been highlighted by a raft of extreme weather that hit many countries, including Japan, this year, which experts warn is being exacerbated by climate change. The latest U.N. report shows that plans by nations in the accord to cut their greenhouse gas emissions are far insufficient to achieve the agreement’s goal to contain man-made rises in global temperatures. Japan, as one of the world’s major emitters, needs to step up to the plate and upgrade its efforts to reduce its emissions.

As the 24th Conference the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change kicked off this week, sharp divisions remained among the signatories to the 2015 agreement, especially between rich industrialized countries and developing economies, over the rules that put the accord into practice, including those to measure each country’s emissions, verify the cuts made and assess how they are living up to their commitments. Agreeing on a common set of rules is essential to ensuring the credibility of the accord as an effective mechanism to fight climate change.

The 2015 Paris agreement set a goal of keeping the rise in global temperature within 2 degrees from pre-industrial levels — preferably closer to 1.5 degrees — in order to avert catastrophic effects from global warming. It was a landmark accord that for the first time brought both advanced and developing nations together in the effort to combat climate change, and each signatory putting forth voluntary plans to cut carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gas emissions. The problem is that the plans so far submitted by the countries will fail to keep the temperature rises within the goal.

The report released last month by the U.N. Environmental Program warned that under the current plans by the signatory nations, global temperatures will have risen by around 3 degrees by the end of the century — and will keep rising. Worldwide emissions of greenhouse gas, which were roughly flat from 2014 to 2016, picked up again last year and likely hit record levels, the report said. To contain the rise within 2 degrees, global emissions in 2030 will need to be cut by 25 percent from 2017 levels, which will require the countries to significantly increase their reductions in emissions from earlier commitments.

The Paris agreement obliges its signatories to upgrade their emissions reduction targets every five years, and each country must submit updated plans by 2020. Since it will take time to make credible plans to cut emissions, the efforts to craft such plans need to start today.

Japan’s plan to slash its emissions in 2030 by 26 percent from the 2013 level is deemed less than ambitious because 2013 — the year in which its greenhouse gas emissions were particularly high due to the aftereffects of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant — is used as the base year. After being on the rise through 2013 as more thermal power plants using fossil fuels were operated to make up for the suspended operations of most of the nation’s nuclear power plants following the Fukushima disaster, Japan’s emissions declined for four years in a row to 2017 due to an increase in power generation through renewable sources and the reopening of some nuclear plants. But 2017 emissions represent an 8.2 percent reduction from the 2013 level — far short of the planned 26 percent cut by 2030.

Measures taken since the 2011 nuclear disaster such as the introduction of the feed-in tariff system led to a quick surge in the share of renewable energy such as solar and wind in Japan’s energy mix. Still, the share of renewables in the nation’s power supply — around 15 percent as of 2015 — lags far behind those of many European economies. While the government says it will turn renewable energies into a primary source of power generation in the future, its plan to lift its share to 22-24 percent by 2030 remains fairly conservative, while the nation expects to continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels for power generation.

Japan trails many other countries in the introduction of carbon pricing policies — which put a rate on carbon dioxide emissions to curb their output — amid opposition from industrial sectors that emit large quantities of greenhouse gases. The fact that the nation is lagging in these efforts means that there’s plenty of room left to take action in combating climate change. It’s time that the nation gets moving in the effort in order to boost the momentum for worldwide action.