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Global Warming: The Public with Little Sense of Crisis
Can Scientists Remove Intergenerational Inequality?

Masahiro Amano
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Efforts for the Kyoto Protocol reduction target

Japan entered the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol starting from April 2008, which requires reducing annual average greenhouse gas emissions by 6% relative to 1990 until 2012. However, a preliminary figure for 2007 released by the Ministry of the Environment indicates an 8.7% increase from the 1990 level, which means that Japan needs to reduce the emissions further, by almost 15%, to achieve the target. There are no specific indications that this target will be reached, however. This is partly because no one has demonstrated strong leadership toward achieving the target, and largely because the public does not share a sense of crisis in spite of the media sounding the alarm and individual companies and citizens are not enthusiastic about actually taking proactive measures against global warming.

The uniqueness of global warming as an environmental issue

Why is it difficult to share a sense of crisis about warming? For environmental pollution in the past, the public witnessed actual air or water pollution and was willing to accept strict regulations and other measures taken by the national or local governments. Large recovery budgets were formed for earthquake disasters which caused visible damage in Hyogo and Niigata. Global warming, however, appears to be a different matter. Although its signs are certainly present in the form of larger typhoons, less snow, smaller glaciers and other various climatic phenomena, it will inflict even more considerable damage on generations 50 or 100 years from now. In contrast, the culprit for global warming is the general public all around the world and the degree of responsibility each person should bear is hard to identify. Likewise, the victims of global warming are the unspecified and invisible future generations. This nebulous situation underlies the main characteristic of global warming: its victims have no opportunity to protest to the perpetrators. It is clear then, that global warming will not be resolved unless the current generation does not voluntarily remove the harm that would come to the future generations. Therefore, global warming needs to be considered with respect to intergenerational equality, a concept associated with "sustainable development."

Roles of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the global warming issue

It was not victims or governments but scientists who warned of the potential importance of the global warming issue in the 1980s. Scientists appealed to policy makers raise awareness that once the geosystem starts moving toward warming, human beings cannot easily restore its course and future generations will suffer from the impacts of global warming. Many policy makers were skeptical of taking immediate actions because, although greenhouse gases were rapidly increasing since the Industrial Revolution, this sharp increase was invisible to them-contrary to shrinking rain forests followed by desertification-and many believed that it would not impact us but rather future generations. This drove global warming researchers to seriously explore how to influence international politics. As a result, the IPCC was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to organize scientists studying global warming. Later, IPCC was absorbed into the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was agreed upon in 1992, to serve as a think tank for treaty negotiators. IPCC then began asserting significant influence on discussion within UNFCCC by studying the impacts of global warming to warn policy makers as well as recommending measures to be taken. This way the global warming issue became a problem globally addressed under the leadership of scientists, and for this accomplishment, the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2007. IPCC as an organizational laureate has honored scientists worldwide who have contributed to its activities, including me.

Significance of information transmitted by scientists

(1) Forecasting issues beyond generations

As mentioned above, we need to consider what measures to take now in order to avoid global warming 50 or 100 years from now, and scientific forecasting methods are essential toward this end. Immediately after his inauguration, the United States President Bush decided to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, which sets out the target of greenhouse gas emissions reduction, because he had serious concerns about restricting national economic activities for scientifically ill-founded global warming measures, and he also expected future generations to solve it with their new technology. This decision much stimulated global warming researchers to rapidly accelerate studies on warming forecasts in the following 5 years. The Bush administration finally recognized the threat of global warming and did not oppose setting up long-term targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

(2) Shaping negotiations based on scientific evaluation

In general, a primary concern of each nation in international negotiations is whether it can win a favorable agreement in terms of its national interest. The Kyoto Protocol is no exception. Because greenhouse gas emissions are closely tied to economic activities, a short-term framework such as the commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol needs to incorporate economic incentives into rules for addressing global warming. This sometimes brings international conflicts of economic interests, and nations considering the Protocol unfavorable may walk away from international negotiations as the U.S. did. To avoid this situation, the IPPC continues to provide global warming status reports, forecasts, recommendations of necessary measures and solution plans to complicated issues in order to facilitate negotiations based on scientific findings.

Roles expected of IPPC in the future

As mentioned above, the global warming issue must be considered from a long-term perspective of 50 or 100 years in line with the response speed of the geosystem. Long-term targets can be discussed separately from economic interests. In fact, a long-term target of halving emissions by 2050 was agreed on without intense opposition during the Toyako Summit held in the summer of 2008. A current agenda is a mid-term target for 2020 bridging the commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and the long-term target. While discussion anticipating the next 5 years would be possible within the current economic framework, foreseeing more years involves technological innovation, changed life style, economic development of developing countries and many other uncertainties which make policy evaluation difficult. Therefore, future negotiations demand global warming studies focusing on forecasts to support policy makers.

Masahiro Amano
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Professor Amano finished the master course of agriculture at Nagoya University in 1972 and has engaged in studies on forest resource management and long-term forecasts of forest products at the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute. He has also been involved in declining rain forests issues since the 1980s and has participated in forest preservation projects as a professional at JICA. In the late 1980s, he started studying relationships between global warming and forests. He took his current position in 2003.

Recent works:
Amano Masahiro, Scientific Overview of How Kyoto Protocol Deals with Forest Absorption [Kyoto Giteisho no Shinrin Kyushu no Atsukai wo meguru Kagaku-teki Kosatsu]. Environmental Information Science [Kankyo Joho Kagaku], 37-1, 9-14(2008)
Amano, Masahiro, Expectation of LiDAR on Forest Measurement in Kyoto Protocol, Journal of Forest Planning, Vol. 13, 275-278(2008)

Amano, Masahiro, Forest Science [Shinrin Kagaku]. Buneido Publishing, 250-263 (2007)
Amano, Masahiro, Roger Sedjo, Forest Sequestration: Performance in Selected Countries in the Kyoto Period and the Potential Role of Sequestration in Post-Kyoto Agreements, An RFF Report, Resources for the Future, 1-58, 2006