Eye on the G8 Summit - the Post Kyoto Struggle Goes on

Next month, leaders from the Group of Eight (G-8) comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States will spend three days in Toyako, Hokkaido at the G-8 Summit to discuss issues of mutual concern.

With climate change topping the summit’s agenda, Prime Minister Kazuo Fukuda is expected to renew efforts in selling Japan’s ‘Cool Earth 50’ initiative to summit participants, and to secure collective agreement for a long-term target of halving global GHG emissions by 2050.

Here’s a quick look at the key points that Japan will be pushing for regarding climate change:

Binding emission targets for all - Citing the need for ‘equity of reduction obligations’ as key to a truly effective post-Kyoto Protocol, Fukuda is intent on bringing the U.S., China, as well as other developing countries into a new ‘effective’ international framework.

Sector-based emission cuts – To sway the positions of the U.S. and the developing nations, Japan is banking on what it calls its ‘sectoral approach’. Japan believes that this ‘bottom-up’ approach, which involves determining reduction targets for specific ‘sectors’ of a country based on energy efficiency indicators, would be more palatable to developing countries compared to blanket national goals.

A much later base year - Japan plans to lobby to change the base year for measuring emission targets from 1990 to 2005, as it feels that a later base year will be more attractive for developing countries to agree to emission cuts.

The Reality

Going by the outcome of recent events, it is quite clear that countries are far from coming into any sort of consensus. To put it simply, discussions are now at a gridlock posed by squabbles reminiscent of the pre-Kyoto era.

On one hand, developing nations remain as allergic as ever towards any imposition of measured targets, and insist that developed nations first set an example by subjecting themselves to concrete medium-term emissions reduction targets. On the other hand, most developed nations have so far steered clear of committing to any official medium-term goals, while continuing to harp on the unfairness of China and India being let off the hook.

In fact, that is exactly what happened during the meeting of the G8 Environment Ministers in Kobe just a month ago, where Japan tried in vain to get countries to consider a medium-term emissions goal. The discussion fizzled out and ended up focusing on distractions such as the importance of recycling activities and reducing the use of plastic bags, much to the chagrin of many local NGOs.

Japan’s ‘sectoral approach’ is actually not something new as it has already been pitched since the World Economic Forum in Davos early this year. Unfortunately, although the term has been overwhelmingly highlighted by local media in a promising light, no one, not even Japan itself, seems to know what it’s supposed to mean. Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UNFCC, frankly admitted in an interview last month that he failed to grasp the concept, and dismissed the idea that it could be a substitute for national goals. Meanwhile, wary developing nations suspect it to be a sneaky way for Japan and other developed nations to shift emission cutting responsibilities to them.

Yasuo Fukuda
Recently, in a bid to gain the confidence of China and the U.S., Fukuda announced a new strategy called the ‘Fukuda Vision’ which sets a long-term target for Japan to reduce its GHG emissions by 60 to 80% by 2050. But the main highlight was a vow to get an experimental local carbon emissions trading system up and running by autumn, a marked departure from Japan’s past initiatives, which were generally voluntary in nature.

Not surprisingly, he was harshly chided by WWF and other environmental NGOs for dragging his feet on setting an official medium-term goal, which would seriously affect the outcome of the upcoming G-8 summit. Such criticism is perfectly justified; was it not Japan which had been urging other developed nations to embrace middle-term targets in the first place? Well, someone has to make the first move.

What does Japan really have to offer?

While I commend Japan’s leadership in a very stagnant post-Kyoto process, I have my reservations on Japan’s underlying motives. Firstly, seated rather dubiously right next to the climate change issue on the summit’s agenda is Japan’s ambitions to push large-scale global deployment of nuclear power, particularly to developing countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, as a solution for addressing climate change. The spread of such a dangerous technology to many gullible and corrupt governments in developing nations raises very alarming possibilities of abuse and the long-term implications on safety and security.

Secondly, I find Japan’s overwhelming and obviously self-serving emphasis on technology and energy efficiency prescriptions somewhat misguided. Certainly, developing countries should simultaneously improve their energy efficiency and cut emissions with ‘leapfrog’ technologies, as a matter of common sense. This can be achieved through well-designed technology transfer mechanisms, which developing nations claimed have not materialized under the Kyoto Protocol. Expanding binding emissions cuts to developing nations, considering their comparatively miniscule per capita emissions levels, appears to be an excuse to avoid tweaking the flaws in the existing technology transfer mechanisms.

We should be aware that despite Japan’s superiority in energy efficiency technology, Japan is still struggling to meet its reduction target of 6 per cent. Latest figures indicate that the country’s emissions are hovering between 6 to 8 percent above 1990 levels.

Since 2005, Japan introduced a flurry of nation-wide campaigns such as ‘Team minus 6%’, which aimed to foster adoption of six eco-friendly measures in daily life among individuals, including the highly-visible Cool Biz and Warm Biz campaigns. Its other programmes relied mainly on voluntary actions by business and industrial organizations, energy savings at factories and other workplaces, improvements in automobile fuel efficiency, development of new energy sources, better forestation to cope with drought, and citizen-participation campaigns. The success of all these measures has been disputed.

At a symposium last year, Japan’s businesses pointed fingers at stubborn consumers who are too slow to change lifestyles and adopt eco-friendly products. Industrial leaders lamented that while industrial sector emissions have actually been reduced below 1990 levels, emissions from household and transport sectors continue to balloon. Indeed, results from a recent poll on consumer attitudes, which found Tokyoites to be the least environmentally-conscious among fellow urbanites in the eight richest cities in the world, seem to paint an extremely incriminating picture of the Japanese consumer.

Overall, it seems to me that Japan’s faith in technological solutions has led it to neglect the importance of reigning in the consumption side of the equation. What developing nations resent greatly is the unwillingness of developed nations like Japan to mend their undeniably unsustainable mode of economic growth, even though they have the means to do so. It will be very hard for developing nations to give up their mistrust of developing nations if the developed nations fail to get things right in their own countries in the first place.

But no matter how bleak the situation seems, I’m hoping that NGOs and the media will continue to pile pressure on President Fukuda to eventually come up with the right moves for the G-8 Summit. A breakthrough is desperately needed as the post-Kyoto struggle goes on.

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  • Posted on June 23, 2008. Listed in:

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