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2008年10月 8日 (水)


2008/10/7 --The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 6(IHT/Asahi: October 7,2008)

EDITORIAL: Global warming


With all the talk about a looming Lower House election, one crucial issue seems to have eluded Diet debate: How to stem global warming.


Lawmakers are strikingly silent on this issue. It's as if they concluded that sufficient policy debate was given to climate change during this year's Group of Eight summit held at Lake Toyako, Hokkaido.


We are alarmed at this situation, given that our collective response to rising temperatures will determine the course of economic and social development in this century.


In elections in other major industrial countries, it is the norm for parties and candidates, irrespective of their political and ideological standing, to present proposals to stop harmful climate change.


In the United States, where the administration of President George W. Bush has been lukewarm at best about tackling the challenge of climate change, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his Republican opponent John McCain have both promised to set specific numerical targets for reducing the country's emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.


In Australia's general election held in November last year, one of the factors behind the victory of the Labor Party, which wrested power from the conservative coalition, was a campaign strategy that put strong emphasis on the party's commitment to fighting global warming.


The leaders of these countries are now looking ahead to the post-Kyoto Protocol era. The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 treaty which requires industrial countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels, began this year and runs through 2012.


Countries are now negotiating to thrash out a post-Kyoto framework for anti-warming efforts beyond the first commitment period, hoping to reach a binding agreement when negotiators meet in Copenhagen at the end of next year under United Nations auspices.


Looking beyond Kyoto


During the Toyako summit, the eight major powers agreed that all countries should share "the goal of achieving at least a 50-percent reduction in global emissions by 2050."


How should this long-term goal be treated under the post-Kyoto framework? What kind of medium-term goals to be achieved by around 2020-2030 should be set?


Negotiations on the new treaty involving fast-growing emerging economies like China and India and developing countries as well as industrialized nations will intensify during the year-long period to the end of 2009.


The new post-Kyoto treaty will bind the participating countries to specific obligations for decades to come. That's why policy debate is raging in the United States and Europe over visions of a low-carbon society and ways to secure sustainable economic growth.


It is by no means easy to build national consensus on this issue.


Proposed measures to reduce greenhouse gases, such as emissions trading and an environmental tax, would bring about various social and economic changes.


The business community and citizens alike will have to accept a painful increase in the burden they shoulder. It is the job of political leaders to define a direction for the nation's climate policy amid conflicting opinions and interests.


In June, then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced a comprehensive climate proposal known as the Fukuda vision. Its goal was to slash Japan's greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 80 percent from current levels over the long term.


Fukuda also called for country-specific mandatory caps on emissions. But his proposal did not refer to any medium-term target nor make clear how Japan should move toward a low-carbon society.


Fukuda's successor, Prime Minister Taro Aso, made some ambitious-sounding promises in his policy speech at the outset of the ongoing Diet session.

He pledged to make sure that Japan will become "a low-carbon society compatible with economic growth ahead of other countries" and "lead efforts to establish international rules as a country that is on the cutting edge of environmental protection and energy conservation."

But Aso failed to offer a clear scenario about how to build on the Fukuda vision. Supported by no specific numerical targets, his climate policy promises are not very convincing.


Job-rich technology development


Meanwhile, the main opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) has submitted its own climate bill to the Diet. The party's climate policy platform announced in September included two medium- to long-term goals: a 25-percent cut in heat-trapping gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 and a 60-percent reduction before 2050.


The Minshuto platform also called for increasing the share of renewable energies like solar and wind power in the nation's overall energy supply to 10 percent by 2020 from around 2 percent right now.

It also advocated the creation of a domestic emissions trading system and a new tax to promote efforts to stop the process that is making the planet warmer.


But the opposition party's platform did not specify the rate of the new green tax nor address when it should be introduced. Minshuto was also vague about the emissions trading system it envisions.


The question confronting policymakers is how to achieve continued economic growth and maintain people's living standards without harming the health of the planet.


The ruling Liberal Democratic Party should come up with a new climate proposal including concrete targets, while Minshuto needs to develop convincing plans to deliver on its promises. Then, the two parties should start serious policy debate on this subject.


The perspective that should be kept in focus in the debate is that a delay in the shift to a low-carbon society leads to losses. One aspect of the international drive to arrest the dangerous climb of the Earth's temperature is competition to develop eco-friendly technologies. Shying away from efforts to stem global warming to avoid necessary short-term costs could mean lost business opportunities.


Aso has said that environmental and energy technologies have the potential to create new demand and jobs. Minshuto has promised to create jobs by promoting the development of technologies and products with a lower environmental impact. Both parties should offer concrete policy proposals focused on the positive aspect of tackling this challenge.


They should also explain clearly and candidly the "pains" that the shift to a low-carbon society would entail.


Germany has obliged electric power companies to buy all the electricity generated by using alternative energies over a period of 20 years. This radical measure has contributed greatly to promoting clean energies, allowing the country to rocket ahead of Japan to world leadership in solar-power generation. The cost of purchasing electricity produced with alternative energies is shared widely by consumers through higher utility bills.


It will be vital to gain the public's support for measures that will entail a higher burden for programs to cut greenhouse gas emissions.


Painful transition


In our view, it is also vital for public discussion to be held on measures to cushion the expected pain that these steps will cause.


The climate bill that the U.S. Senate considered and came close to voting on this year contained provisions to provide support to the poor and offer job training for jobless workers.

These provisions were based on the assumption that policy efforts to stop global warming would raise electricity rates and cause job losses by hurting energy-intensive industries. Policy responses to the issue of global warming in Japan also need to pay such careful attention to possible side effects.


The environment is not an issue that is closely linked to people's daily lives or makes a big difference at the voting booth. If politicians still believe this myth they are boxed in terribly outdated thinking.


All political leaders of today must have the ability to provide effective ideas and leadership for turning the serious threat posed by global warming into an opportunity for economic and social progress.



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