Japan Should Take More Proactive Climate Action

Japan Should Take More Proactive Climate Action
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

Japan’s efforts toward cutting its own emissions have failed to impress internationally. It needs to demonstrate that it is serious about combating climate change by taking concrete action and coming up with more ambitious long-term plans.

Japan lagged behind others in the initial efforts to put the Paris agreement last December into action to combat climate change. Now the nation needs to redouble its work toward the pact’s goal of an effectively zero emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by the latter half of the century. Tokyo’s failure to ratify the deal before the pact entered into force in early November with the endorsement by dozens of other signatories will be no problem if it can indeed play leading roles in the long and steady international efforts to contain climate change — which need to start today for them to be effective in fighting the man-made rise in global temperatures.

The first meeting of parties to the Paris accord — held during the COP 22 United Nations conference on climate change in Marrakesh, Morocco — ended by agreeing to draw up by 2018 a rule book to implement steps under the agreement to fight global warming. Japan took part in the meeting as an observer without voting rights since its ratification of the accord earlier this month was not in time for it to be officially counted as a party to the deal at the gathering. It was after it became certain that the accord will enter into force that the Abe administration submitted a legislation for its ratification to the Diet.

It was significant that the participants in the Marrakesh meeting demonstrated their resolve to move their anti-global warming efforts forward even as the election of Donald Trump, who has described climate change a hoax and pledged to pull the United States out of the agreement, as the next U.S. president cast a shadow over the future of the deal. The U.S. and China — the world’s two largest emitters of global warming gases — ratified the Paris accord in September, giving impetus to the procedures by other countries to endorse the pact and put it in force in only 11 months after the deal was struck in December 2015.

The U.S. withdrew from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol against global warming when the then administration of President George W. Bush refused to ratify the treaty. Still, the pact entered into force with the endorsement by other countries, moving forward the international efforts to combat climate change. During the Marrakesh conference, China, the world’s top emitter, indicated that it would go ahead with cuts to its own emissions and provide aid to developing economies to help their fight against global warming. What specific policies President Trump will take on the issue remains to be seen, but the international community including Japan must not let any deviation in the U.S. position on the issue derail worldwide efforts to tackle climate change, and urge the incoming the U.S. administration to stand by the nation’s commitment to combat the global problem.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris agreement, signed by more than 190 countries last year, requires efforts by both industrialized and developing economies to take on climate change to achieve its goal of keeping the post-Industrial Revolution rise in the world’s temperatures within 2 degrees to avert the catastrophic impact of global warming. The problem is, voluntary plans submitted by the participants ahead of the deal are deemed far insufficient to achieve the goal, and the agreement calls on nations to regularly review and beef up their efforts to reduce their emissions.

Japan needs to do its own share — and more — of the effort as the world’s fifth-largest emitter that accounts for 3.8 percent of global emissions. Environment Minister Koichi Yamamoto said at the Marrakesh gathering that Japan would “play a central role” in the effort to reduce worldwide net emissions to zero through its own emissions cuts as well as financial and technological aid to developing economies. The government’s target calls for a 26 percent cut in Japan’s emissions in 2030 from the 2013 levels. But the process under the Paris accord for the nations to revamp such goals starts in just a few years. While Abe calls efforts to combat climate change a “top priority” of his Cabinet, there seems to be little indication that he spends much of his political resources to deepen Japan’s commitments to the fight against global warming.

Japan’s efforts toward cutting its own emissions have failed to impress internationally. While the Marrakesh meeting was being held, environmental think tanks and NGOs reportedly rated Japan’s policy on climate change quite poorly, citing its energy policy that relies heavily on supply from coal-fired power plants and its pursuit of nuclear energy as a key alternative to fossil fuels instead of doing more to promote renewable energy. If the government wants to rebut such ratings, it needs to demonstrate that it is serious about combating climate change by taking concrete action and coming up with more ambitious long-term plans.

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

Editor: Olivia Yang