The Abe administration should not waste more time in seeking ratification of the Paris Agreement for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. It has now become certain that the international climate accord will enter into force early next month with ratification by more than 60 countries that account for over 55 percent of global emissions. If Japan fails to ratify the pact before it takes effect, the nation will not be able to take part in the initial rounds of making the rules for its implementation. Slow action on the accord by Japan, the world’s fifth-largest emitter, is all the more regrettable since the agreement requires participating countries to do more than what they already committed to when signing the deal.

The landmark deal adopted at the climate change conference in Paris last December sets a target of keeping the rise in global temperatures from pre-industrial levels within 2 degrees Celsius — and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees — and of cutting the man-made emissions of global-warming gases effectively to zero in the latter half of this century. Unlike the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which imposed emissions reduction targets solely on advanced economies, all participants in the Paris accord — both developed and developing nations — will set voluntary goals to cut their emissions. The problem is, the voluntary plans submitted by countries ahead of the accord are deemed insufficient to achieve the goals.

India, which accounts for 4 percent of the world’s emissions, said Sunday it has completed the procedure to ratify the pact — the 62nd country to do so. The European Union has agreed to ratify the accord by Friday. The world’s two largest emitters, China and the United States, have already ratified the pact, and the treaty — which will enter into force once it’s been ratified by at least 55 countries that together account for 55 percent or more of global emissions — is now assured of taking effect by early November. If that happens, the countries that have ratified the pact will likely hold their first meeting during the Nov. 7-18 COP 22 conference of parties to the United Nations climate change framework treaty in Marrakech, Morocco.

That it is taking less than a year for the Paris Agreement to take effect — compared with more than seven spent years before the Kyoto Protocol came into force — seems to reflect a greater sense of crisis and urgency on the part of leaders of the major powers, given that the threat of global warming is already becoming evident today. Some experts warn that the rise in global temperatures from pre-industrial levels could hit 2 degrees by 2050 even if nations comply with the Paris accord, urging the countries to redouble their efforts to cut their emissions.

No such sense of urgency seems to be felt among Japan’s lawmakers or the government. Prodded by the prospect that the Paris Agreement would come into force as early as next month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Diet last week that the government is ready to submit the pact to the current session of the Diet for prompt ratification. However, the issue does not appear to be a policy priority for his administration. The policy speech that he delivered at the outset of the current session on Sept. 26 did not touch at all on the Paris accord or even climate change. And while the government hurriedly prepares to submit the pact to the Diet, it’s not clear if it can be approved during the current session given the tight schedule of deliberations on other matters such as endorsement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade accord.

The agreement dictates that a signatory will not be given the voting rights in the making of rules of its implementation until 30 days have passed after it submitted ratification documents to its secretariat. Japan may not be able to join the first meeting of the parties to the treaty except as an observer. To be discussed among the parties will be, for example, rules on the scheme to mutually verify the participating countries’ emissions and the framework for technological and financial assistance to developing countries.

By lagging behind others in the implementation of the agreement, Japan may not only invite the international reputation of a country not serious enough about climate change. Even more worrisome is the lack of discussions on additional steps that Japan should be taking to fight global warming. Before the Paris accord was adopted, Japan vowed to reduce emissions by 26 percent from 2013 levels in 2030. But these commitments by the signatories are not enough to achieve the pact’s goals, and the agreement calls on each participant to review their targets every five years to pursue deeper cuts.

Japan needs to promptly begin discussions on what more steps it can take to curb climate change. While the nation’s committed goal is less ambitious than the targets set by the U.S. and European powers, the government’s energy policy calls for a sizable share of coal-fired thermal power plants as the source of power supply, bucking the worldwide trend for a shift toward low-carbon economy.

Meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of effectively zero emissions by the latter half of the century will require radical changes in social and economic structures, but discussions for such efforts do not appear to be afoot in this country. The government should seek to promptly ratify and join in implementing the accord, but the process itself will only put this nation, like others, on the starting line of beefing up action on climate change.

The News Lens has been authorized to republish this editorial. The original can be found here.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole