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Monday, Nov. 20, 2006

Viable post-Kyoto approach


The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol covers the five years from 2008 to 2012. Now is the time to start discussing the international framework for the second commitment period, which begins in 2013.

In considering the international framework for the post-Kyoto Protocol era, the crucial question is whether the United States will return to the agreement.

The U.S. accounts for 25 percent of the world's carbon dioxide (CO2 emissions, and without its participation, any agreement for controlling global warming will be ineffective.

Without active U.S. involvement, it is meaningless to discuss the possible participation of China, India and other developing countries.

At the 11th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention (the first meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol) held last year in Montreal, Canada, former U.S. President Bill Clinton made a surprise appearance at the invitation of the Canadian government. To the dismay of the U.S. delegation, Clinton told the conference that it was the Bush administration -- not the American public -- that opposed the Kyoto Protocol. I hope Clinton was right.

In the Nov. 7 U.S. midterm elections, the Democrats won a resounding victory -- a sign that many American voters reject some of the unilateral policies of the Bush administration.

On March 28, 2001, President George W. Bush stunned the world by announcing U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. The announcement, which preceded the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq War, was the first sign of the administration's unilateralism.

Ever since Bush said in June 2001 that the protocol had "fatal flaws," I have been thinking about what he really meant. The agreement does set a busy schedule, requiring that a target period be set every five years. Yet the plan would make only limited funds available for long-term research and development of projects such as:

* Separation/recovery of CO2 from smoke emissions for storage in aquifers.

* Solar-power generation in space (launching a large number of solar panels into space, building solar-power generators by remote control from a space station, converting generated electric power into microwaves for transmission to terrestrial rectifying antennas followed by reconversion into electric power for transmission).

* A new generation of atomic power and nuclear fusion.

Therefore, the Kyoto Protocol would appear to impede long-term technological development that contributes to reduction of CO2 emissions. Bush may have been right when he mentioned the "fatal flaws" of the protocol.

Assuming that my analysis is correct, I believe that the best way to encourage U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol is to propose a framework for international cooperation on long-term technological development that will contribute to reduced CO2 emissions in parallel with five-year goals set under the protocol.

It is hoped that China, the world's second-largest CO2 emitter, and India, the fifth-largest CO2 emitter, will join the protocol. Incentives should be offered to encourage their participation. As developing nations, China and India should be required only to "restrain" -- rather than reduce -- their emissions.

Developing nations should be prohibited from merely producing "hot air" -- that is, they should be obligated to achieve an "appropriate" target for restraining emissions by hard work.

Under the "cap and trade" system of the protocol, developing nations could enter the market for emissions trading and make profits only by accepting a restraint on their emissions. If they achieved an emissions cutback above the target, they could sell the excess portion to other countries and earn foreign currency. This system of awarding developing countries the right to enter the emissions trading market in exchange for their promises to restrain emissions would provide an incentive for developing nations to participate in the protocol.

To sum up, U.S. participation in the protocol is essential. Toward that end, an international cooperation system for long-term technical development should be established. And developing countries should be offered incentives to take part in the protocol. This is the only viable international framework for the post-Kyoto Protocol era.

Takamitsu Sawa is a professor at Ritsumeikan University's Graduate School of Policy Science and a specially appointed professor at Kyoto University's Institute of Economic Research.


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