Stumbling stone at Cancun

By Feng Zhaokui
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, December 8, 2010
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Japan risks robbing itself of the pride in Kyoto Protocol and becoming an obstacle to further climate change action

Japan's unwillingness to extend the Kyoto Protocol is putting the global climate change architecture at risk and undermining the ongoing United Nations climate talks in Cancun.

Since the start of the Cancun talks on Nov 30, Japan's U-turn on the protocol has been noteworthy. Japanese officials have on several occasions expressed opposition to extending the Kyoto Protocol to its second commitment period, saying Japan will not make any emissions reduction commitments in this period.

At a recent regular news conference, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshito Sengoku, said he is firmly opposed to "discussions on the extension of the Kyoto Protocol to its second commitment period".

The parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held their third conference in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, at which the representatives from 149 countries and regions managed to agree the Kyoto Protocol. Following arduous talks, the protocol came into force in February 2005 and it is currently the only binding international convention on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement under which industrialized countries will reduce their collective emissions of CO2 and five other greenhouse gases by 5.2 percent by 2012 compared to 1990 levels. National targets range from 8 percent reductions for the European Union to 7 percent for the United States, and 6 percent for Japan. Under the framework, developed countries also committed to further raising their reduction targets.

As the host nation of the 1997 UNFCCC conference, Japan played an important role in brokering the Kyoto Protocol. However, as the protocol approaches the end of its first commitment period, Japan is facing growing difficulties in reaching its target. Instead of a decline from the 1990 level, Japan's greenhouse gas emissions had increased 8.3 percent by 2007. Japan will have to slash its emissions by 14.3 percent by the end of 2012 to attain the 6 percent reduction target, a task that will be hard to realize if no substantial steps are taken.

However, compared with Japan's increase, emissions in Germany had declined 22.4 percent from their 1990 level by 2007. Britain has cut its greenhouse gas emissions 17.9 percent from its 1990 level and France 5.8 percent.

Japan has only 2 percent of the world's population, however it ranks fifth in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Japan's increased emission volumes reveal its irresponsible attitude toward the protocol.

In December 1997, Japan set up a government agency responsible for coordination and implementation of climate change policies and it laid out policy guidelines on global warming in June 2008. In April 1999, a bill was introduced to promote implementation of the country's measures targeting global warming.

At a speech delivered in June 2008, former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda promised a 60 percent to 80 percent cut in the country's greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 from the current level. In September 2009 as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, Yukio Hatoyama made promises the government would cut emissions by 25 percent by 2020 from the 1990 level. After becoming Japan's prime minister, Hatoyama put forward initiatives at a UN climate summit meeting to promote technology transfer from developed to developing countries. He also recommended that developed nations, including Japan, allot a sum of money to contribute to global emission reductions.

Despite being a country that possesses state of the art energy conservation technologies, Japan needs more concrete action in combating climate change.

It is hoped that Japan will neither obstruct the ongoing global climate talks in Cancun nor shift international attention to China. Tokyo should remain mindful that in 2008 the sales volumes of Japan's China-based enterprises accounted for 11.4 percent of Japan's overseas enterprises, but these ventures also added to China's emissions volumes.

Japan should try to strengthen cooperation with China instead of lashing out at it.

The author is a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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