The latest report by the United Nations panel on climate change may not offer any new surprises concerning the threats posed by global warming, but it does remind us that doing too little, or waiting too long, to cut the emissions of heat-trapping gases could be disastrous.
The onus is now on governments, including Japan, to expedite talks for a new framework to reduce the emissions in time to avert “irreversible” damage to the global environment.
In an assessment issued Nov. 2, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide need to be cut to “near zero or below” by the end of this century for the world to escape the “irreversible detrimental impacts” of climate change on people’s lives and the environment. To meet the internationally agreed goal of keeping the average rise in global temperature since the start of the Industrial Revolution to within 2 degrees Celsius, the world needs to reduce emissions between 40 and 70 percent from 2010 levels by 2050, the report said.
Time is indeed running short to take action. According to the assessment, countries around the world have already emitted two-thirds of the maximum allowable amount of carbon dioxide that can keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees. They have only a 1-trillion-ton margin left — an amount that could be exhausted in about 30 years if emissions continue at the current pace.
Many of the stern warnings in the latest report have been around for years. But progress in negotiations among governments on a new framework for cutting the gas emissions that cause global warming has been slow even after the commitment phase of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012. The Protocol set binding targets on industrialized economies.
The report was compiled to serve as a scientific guide for policy actions by governments. But in negotiations by the parties to the U.N. convention on climate change, agreements on which countries should do what to reduce global emissions have been elusive as interests have clashed between industrialized nations and developing nations.
While the former call on emerging economies to set substantial goals to reduce their growing emissions, the latter charge that the advanced economies have a historical responsibility to lead the efforts in minimizing climate change.
Participants in the U.N. negotiations, who will gather in Lima next month for the COP 20 conference, have set a goal of agreeing on a new framework for climate action — beyond 2020 — at the COP 21 meeting to be held in Paris in late 2015.
Before the Paris conference, countries that have readied their own targets are set to submit their plans by the end of March for review by the other negotiating parties. Last month the European Union announced a new target of reducing its emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.
Japan does not appear ready to set a target beyond 2020. Last year it replaced an earlier plan with a new “tentative” target of reducing emissions 3.8 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. It came under international fire because the new target represented a net increase in emissions from the Kyoto Protocol base year of 1990. The government said the goal was the best it could offer given the uncertainties created by the idling of the nation’s nuclear power plants following the March 2011 meltdowns at the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant — a situation that remains little changed a year later.
To blame the uncertain future of nuclear energy for inaction on plans to fight climate change now is inexcusable. Nuclear power generation does not emit carbon dioxide, but the government needs to explore various avenues, including an accelerated shift to renewable energy sources and the introduction of tougher energy-efficiency standards, to set an ambitious target. Even the restart of idled reactors after screening by the Nuclear Regulation Authority would not reduce emissions to levels that would be in step with the international efforts called for in the IPCC report.
Japan cannot keep relying on nuclear power to do its share in the fight against climate change.