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Saturday, May 24, 2008
Status quo may block climate pact
G8 campaign faces political hurdles, noted activist warns
KYOTO — A weak prime minister, a divided bureaucracy and opposition from big business mean Japan's ability to use the July Group of Eight Summit at Lake Toya to forge an effective global warming treaty is at risk, a leading environmental activist warns.
"Over the past six months, Japanese proposals for a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty on the environment have met with stiff international opposition at conferences in Bali, Bangkok and Japan," said Yurika Ayukawa in a recent interview with The Japan Times. "Time is running out, and we're very worried Japan will not exercise leadership on the environment at the G8 Summit."
Ayukawa is vice chairwoman of the 2008 G8 Summit NGO Forum, an umbrella organization of about 130 nongovernmental organizations working on poverty and development, peace and human rights, and environmental issues.
One of Japan's most prominent environmental activists, Ayukawa has been meeting with Japanese officials involved in climate change issues and with politicians who are pushing for Japan to take the lead on forging a new climate change treaty to replace the Kyoto pact, which expires in 2012.
But she said Japanese industry, including the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), is proving to be a major roadblock to reaching the kind of tough emissions-reductions targets most climate change experts say are needed to slow the rate of global warming.
"Keidanren opposed the Kyoto Protocol and many powerful corporate types don't want Japan to be bound by numerical targets under a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty," Ayukawa said. "Because of pressure from politically powerful industries, especially the steel industry, and because Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is politically weak and the Diet is divided, Japanese negotiators for a new protocol are constrained on what they can promise."
At last year's U.N. climate change conference in Bali, it was agreed that developed countries would take measurable and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation actions, including quantified emissions-reduction objectives.
But developing countries are only obliged to take nationally appropriate actions under the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" between developed and developing countries.
Developing countries, including China and India, remain opposed to any agreement that forces them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a specific amount, while developed countries, notably the United States, insist a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty must include measurable emission-reduction standards for developing nations, which are large greenhouse gas emitters.
To bring China and other nations onboard a post-Kyoto treaty, Japan has suggested what's known as a sectoral approach. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year, Fukuda proposed that numerical greenhouse gas-reduction targets be set based on how energy-efficient various industrial sectors are.
"The target could be set by compiling on a sectoral basis energy efficiency as a scientific and transparent measurement, and tallying up the reduction volume that would be achieved based on the technology to be in use in subsequent years," Fukuda said.
But the vagueness of the concept itself has increased Ayukawa's concerns.
"The sectoral approach is extremely complicated. There are differences between countries on what the phrase industrial 'sectors' really means. Unless there is a thorough discussion between all parties as to what, exactly, the term refers to, it will be impossible to reach an agreement."
Yet such a discussion will no doubt be time-consuming, and the deadline for a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty is rapidly approaching, as it was agreed in Bali last year that an accord should be reached by the end of 2009, she said.
In Davos, Fukuda also said Japan will, along with other major emitters, set a quantified national target for greenhouse gas emissions-reductions. If that is the policy the government intends to pursue, Ayukawa said, it will likely be a bone of great contention.
"The phrase 'major emitters' includes China and India, and has made them wary of Japan's proposals, as they fear agreeing to it will lock them into specific numerical targets that they oppose," Ayukawa said. "Japan and the other advanced countries have a responsibility to lead the effort to forge a new climate treaty, and they need to take the lead by setting tough numerical targets."
Japan's NGOs are hoping to meet with Fukuda prior to the July G8 summit in Hokkaido to raise the above concerns, Ayukawa said. Fukuda may also have a separate meeting with international NGOs.