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e-Magazine (For the Japanese version of this article)

Understanding Japan through Key Words (Part 10) Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Target [Date of Issue: 29/May/2015 No.0243-0975]

Date of Issue: 29/May/2015

Series: Understanding Japan through Key Words (Part 10)
Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Target

To prevent the global warming which is regarded as the cause of abnormal weather and other phenomena, all parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change put forward their own targets as international commitments. At the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCC (COP21), which will be held in Paris late in 2015, reduction targets will be an important element in creating a new international framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Greenhouse gas" is the generic name for those gases which absorb part of the heat radiating from the Earth's surface within the Earth's atmosphere, causing the temperature to rise. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) developed as a replacement for chlorofluorocarbons.

The original international framework for greenhouse gas reduction was the Kyoto Protocol, concluded in December 1997. The Kyoto Protocol required developed countries such as Japan and Europe that had achieved economic development through the mass consumption of fossil fuels such as coal and oil to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by five percent compared to the 1990 level over 2008-2012.

However, in March 2001, the United States pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, even as criticism grew as to the effectiveness of the original framework if reduction obligations were not imposed on emerging countries such as China and India which had subsequently experienced rapid growth. At a conference held in Durban, South Africa in December 2011, it was accordingly agreed that a new post-2020 international framework would be adopted by 2015.

Greenhouse gas emission targets to provide the basis for the new framework were to be submitted by March 2015 where possible. The European Union (EU) has already committed to a 40 percent reduction on a 1990 baseline by 2030. The US has announced a target reduction of 26-28 percent on a 2005 baseline by 2025, while China's stated target is to have emissions peak out by around 2030.

Japan has lagged behind other countries in establishing a target, but on April 30 the government put forward a draft proposal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent compared to a baseline of 2013 by 2030. The 26 percent goal will be reached by cutting carbon emissions by 21.9 percent by restarting Japan's nuclear power stations and introducing more renewable energy, reducing other greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 percent, and achieving a further 2.6 percent reduction through forests and other carbon sinks. Coordination with the ruling party will be required before a final decision is made, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to make a formal announcement at the G7 Summit in Germany which begins on 7 June.

However, when set against the ambitious goal laid down by the previous Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration of a 25 percent reduction on a baseline of 1990 by 2020, the government's proposal actually represents a downward revision to 18 percent. Moreover, the baseline of 2013 was chosen because measuring the improvement on the current status, whereby shutting down nuclear power plants has left Japan dependent on coal-fired thermal power, will artificially exaggerate the extent of the reduction. The government's original baseline of 2005 would bring the reduction in at 25.4 percent, with estimates within the government suggesting that Japan's target will fall short of the US and EU target levels.

It is also likely that Japan's rather modest target will attract criticism at COP21 from those developing countries arguing the historical responsibility of the developed world, which emitted huge amounts of greenhouse gases in the course of achieving economic development. The developed world takes the position that developing countries too should play a major role in greenhouse gas reduction. Significant obstacles would still appear to stand in the way of both sides overcoming their differences and creating a new greenhouse gas reduction framework.

(original article : Japanese)

*This article was written by a specialist journalist.
(For the Japanese version of this article)


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