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Monday, July 9, 2007

Next stage of emission cuts

Speaking at the 13th International "Future of Asia" conference in Tokyo May 24, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a set of comprehensive strategies for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.

In a speech titled "An Invitation to a Beautiful Planet," Abe called for halving global emissions by 2050. Toward that end, he urged development of innovative technologies and the construction of a low-carbon society based on such technologies. He proposed principles of a concrete framework for addressing global warming beyond 2013:

* All major emitters must participate and move beyond the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global emissions.

* The framework must be diverse and flexible, taking into consideration the circumstances of each country.

* The framework must achieve compatibility between environmental protection and economic growth by utilizing energy conservation and other technologies.

Abe proposed the creation of a financial mechanism for aiding developing countries and a national campaign for reducing greenhouse gases with the motto "one person, one day, one kilogram (amount of greenhouse-gas emissions reduced)."

This is the first time that a Japanese prime minister has made such a bold proposal for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. It indicates that the Cabinet Office is beginning to play a major role in making environmental policy.

Halving global emissions means balancing greenhouse-gas emissions from human activities with the absorption of carbon dioxide by plants and oceans. This is not a pipe dream. For example, by reducing emissions from coal-burning power stations to zero with innovative CO2 capture and storage (CCS) technology, global emissions could be cut by 30 percent. By transferring Japanese manufacturing technologies worldwide, emissions could be reduced 20 percent.

Japan could decrease its emissions more than 20 percent merely by limiting per capita emissions to the present level, since the nation's population is predicted to fall below 100 million in 2050.

Crude oil may not be depleted by 2050, but it is likely to fetch very high prices. Gasoline- or diesel-powered automobiles most likely will disappear.

On March 28, 2001, President George W. Bush announced U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, presumably because the agreement exempted developing countries from compliance and would seriously harm the U.S. economy. On June 11, 2001, he stated that the protocol was "fatally flawed" and reaffirmed U.S. strong intention to reject the treaty.

What did Bush mean when he said the agreement was "fatally flawed"? The two reasons he gave do not indicate serious flaws. We should encourage the U.S. to return to the agreement, clarify its meaning of "fatal flaws" and take measures to correct the problems.

In my opinion, Bush's statement that the Kyoto Protocol is "fatally flawed" suggests that compliance with the agreement would contribute little to the prevention of global warming and would hinder the development of large-scale technologies that would help reduce CO2emissions — specifically, CCS technology, space-based solar power systems, a new generation of nuclear power generation, nuclear fusion and a future hydrogen-based society.

The European Union has proposed a 20 percent cut in its greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 from the 1990 level and contends that the EU and other industrial countries could jointly cut their emissions by 30 percent.

The EU proposal for a 20 percent cut by 2020 appears to be an extension of the EU's pre-Kyoto Protocol scheme for a 15 percent cut in emissions by 2010. The "other industrial countries" mentioned include former Soviet Union republics and East European countries.

The EU proposal suggests a post-Kyoto Protocol international framework in which numerical targets for a second, five-year commitment period, with a midpoint of 2020, is being considered.

The Kyoto Protocol calls for emission reductions of at least 5 percent for industrial countries as a whole — 8 percent for the EU, 7 percent for the U.S., 6 percent for Japan and zero percent for former Soviet Union republics and East European countries.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton proposed a zero percent reduction in November 1997 in consultation with the EU, although he presumably was looking for a reduction of somewhere between zero and 15 percent. The next protocol is likely to obligate industrial countries to cut emissions by at least 10 percent from the 1990 level in the five-year period around 2020.

To get the U.S. to return to the agreement, it is essential to create a joint international R&D organization for large-scale technologies that will contribute to reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. (ITER, the international project to construct and operate an experimental fusion reactor, sets a precedent for joint R&D.)

China has become the world's No. 1 CO2 emitter, having overtaken the U.S., and India is now the fifth-biggest emitter. Both will find incentives for participation in the new protocol such as access to emissions trading and joint implementation — a program under which industrial countries meet part of their obligation to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by paying for projects that reduce emissions in other industrial countries.

The new protocol could go like this: China, India and other developing countries aim for less than "X" percent cuts in emissions growth by 2020 compared to the 2005 level. The value "X" inevitably will be high, considering the high economic growth of China, India and other emerging economies.

However, given the possibility of joint implementation and Chinese President Hu Jintao's statement to the Chinese People's Congress in March 2006 that China intends to cut its energy use per unit of gross national product by 20 percent in the next five years, the value "X" could be relatively low. China and India, seeking to become sellers in the emissions trading market, will try to cut CO2 emissions by adopting energy conservation and other measures.

Participating developing nations should host joint implementation rather than the clean development mechanism. Under CDM, industrial countries invest in emission-reduction projects in developing countries as an alternative to reducing emissions themselves. Since a CDM project increases a developed country's emissions allowance, it must pass strict screening to be approved.

Joint implementation, however, is subject only to bilateral negotiations, as host nations transfer emission rights to investing nations (without affecting the emission rights of industrial nations as a whole). Therefore, participation by developing countries will benefit Japan and other countries most likely to become buyers of emission rights.

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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