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Can the World Achieve the Transition to a Low Carbon Society?
- Issues for Japan raised by the Group of Eight Hokkaido Toyako Summit 2008

Professor Koichi Kuriyama
School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University

The G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit 2008 and the Setting of Long-term Targets

In the Group of Eight Hokkaido Toyako Summit 2008 which was held from July 7 to July 9, one of the main themes raised was the problem of global warming. According to the 4th report on climate change issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in order to limit the increase in temperature to two degrees centigrade, it will be necessary to halve the amount of global greenhouse gas emissions from the current levels by 2050, which would require far larger numerical targets for cuts in emissions to be made than the current target of a cut of 5% in emissions by the world's most advanced nations which was set by the Kyoto Protocol. At the Toyako Summit, the EU pushed for the adoption of the target of halving global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in accordance with the IPCC report. On the other hand, the United States expressed its opposition to setting such a target just among the world's most advanced nations, while allowing newly rising and developing nations like China and India etc., to get away without having to bear any responsibility to make greenhouse gas emissions cuts.

After this confrontation between the EU and America, the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit 2008 closed with a declaration on environmental issues by the G8 leaders that stated: "We seek to share with all Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the vision of, and together with them to consider and adopt in the UNFCCC negotiations, the goal of achieving at least 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050." Since this represented an agreement to a long-term target to "halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050" and the agreeing parties included the United States, which had broken away from the Kyoto Protocol accords, this could be said to indicate some degree of progress. However, it will be very difficult indeed to realize this sort of long-term target. The reason being that, although the greenhouse gas emissions of China and India and other newly rising or developing countries are continuing to increase rapidly, these countries remain opposed to the setting of such long-term emissions targets, since they wish to prioritize their economic growth.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions are Increasing Rapidly in Developing Nations

Figure 1 is a breakdown by country of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. In 1990, developing countries such as China or India represented no more than 36% of global emissions, but by 2005, developing countries were responsible for 51% of emissions; that is, for more than half of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. On the other hand, by 2005, the advanced nations who have undertaken a responsibility to cut their carbon dioxide emissions in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol represented only 29% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, in the future, even if the advanced nations push forward with their policies to counter global warming and reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, as long as China and India and other newly rising or developing nations continue to increase their greenhouse gas emissions, it will be very difficult to achieve the agreed target of halving global greenhouse gas emissions.

Alongside the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit 2008, a meeting of the Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change (MEM) was simultaneously held, consisting of the G8 major powers and the 8 countries most responsible for the world's greenhouse gas emissions, which included China and India, etc. At the MEM, no resolution was found to bridge the gap between the advanced countries who were seeking to establish a numerical long-term target for emissions cuts, and China and India who consistently refused to accept the setting of a numerical target, and ultimately it was impossible to agree upon a figure as a target for emissions reductions. China and India argued that "the cause of the global warming problem is that, up until now, the advanced countries have emitted huge volumes of greenhouse gases, and therefore the responsibility for making emissions cuts should lie first with them." Their argument is quite understandable from the viewpoint of newly rising or developing nations seeking to further develop their economies in the future. But if developing nations continue to increase their emissions of greenhouse effect gases as they are doing at present, even if the advanced nations seek to implement a policy to counter the global warming problem, it will be almost impossible for it to succeed.

Japan is Unable to Display Leadership

With people across the world seeking a solution to the global warming problem on a global scale, Japan's energy-saving technologies have recently been given considerable attention. After the Oil Shock of 1973, Japan made great strides in developing energy-saving technologies and succeeded in becoming one of the world's most efficient energy users. Figure 2 shows a comparison of the energy efficiency of the countries of the world, and from this it is clear that in order to conduct the same amount of economic activity, China and India have to use 9 times the amount of energy that Japan uses, and therefore will produce the same proportion of unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions. This also means that if Japan were to transfer its energy-saving technologies to China and India, it would be possible for them to make huge reductions in the amount of greenhouse gases they emit.

Note:Figures indicate primary energy supply amounts divided by GDP, with Japan as the point of reference with a value of 1.
Source:Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, "An International Comparison of Energy Efficiency" (April, 2007)

Japan has some of the world's leading energy-saving technologies and therefore Japan should be able to provide some sort of leadership on the world stage regarding the issue of countering the problem of global warming. But in fact, Japan is currently struggling to fulfill her own pledge to cut emissions by 6% in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol. Because Japan has already taken great strides in implementing energy-saving measures, when it comes to seeking to cut emissions further, huge costs are involved. For this reason, the business and industrial world in Japan has been staunchly opposed to regulations on emissions of greenhouse gases and, as a result, measures to counter global warming have not been able to go beyond independent initiatives by individual corporations. The result of this has been that instead of succeeding in reducing its emissions, Japan's greenhouse gas emissions have actually increased. Despite the fact that Japan has some of the best technologies in the world to counter the effects of global warming, it has been unable to utilize these to help realize the transition to a low carbon society.

What is Needed in order to Realize a Low Carbon Society?

In order to realize the long-term target to "halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050," it will be necessary for each of the countries of the world to achieve the transition from a society that consumes large quantities of energy to a low carbon society. In particular, it is essential that newly rising and developing countries like China and India etc. are included in any measures to try to counter the problem of global warming on a truly global scale. Of course, it will not be easy to encourage newly rising and developing countries to undertake obligations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and thus to bear the cost of the measures to counter global warming. But, whether we finally have only the advanced nations of the world bear the cost of measures to counter global warming, or whether we succeed in achieving a partnership of the advanced nations and newly rising or developing countries to cooperate in bearing the cost of measures to counter global warming, either way, in order to realize the global transition to a low carbon society, there is no doubt about the fact that Japan's technologies to counter global warming will have an important role to play.

The EU has already taken measures such as the introduction of an environmental tax and the launch of a genuine emissions quota trading system in the form of the European Union Emission Trading System (EU-ETS), as definite steps toward the construction of the social systems that will be needed for a low carbon society. The question remains, however, of whether or not Japan will similarly be able to conduct the major policy transformations needed to move toward a low carbon society? And, furthermore, whether or not Japan will be able to demonstrate its leadership on a world stage to enable all the countries of the world to realize a low carbon society on a global scale? It can truly be said that as the world is searching for the means to enable it to undergo the complete transfiguration into a low carbon society, the future direction of Japan's global warming policy is being called into question.

Professor Koichi Kuriyama
School of Political Science and Economics,
Waseda University

Professor Koichi Kuriyama is a faculty member of the School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University. Born in 1967, Professor Kuriyama earned his Master's degree from the School of Agricultural Science at Kyoto University in 1994 and has a PhD in Agricultural Science. From 1994, he became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Forest Science at Hokkaido University; from 1999 he became an Assistant Professor in the School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University, before becoming an Associate Professor, and then Professor in his current post in 2006. His primary area of expertise is environmental economics. He is the author of titles such as "Environmental Value and Valuation Method", "Public Projects and Evaluating Value", and "Getting to Grips with Environmental Economics"(co-authored with Shunsuke Managi), as well as the co-author or editor of numerous other works.

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