Shuzo Nishioka (Senior Research Advisor, IGES)
Reflections on COP16
--- COP16 - the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - was held in Cancun, Mexico, at the close of 2010. How do you rate COP16?
I rate it positively. At the previous COP15 conference we saw higher profiles from new actors such as the United States and China, which is pursuing rapid economic growth, produce heated debate and conspicuous confrontation. The countries at COP16, however, made repeated compromise and adopted the Cancun Agreement, guidelines for negotiations working towards the next framework agreement.
It was notable that China, which suffered criticism for its hard-line stance at COP15, worked boldly this past year on saving energy and reducing its energy consumption per unit of GDP and by COP16 came to evidence a "readiness" to address warming, as in its announcement accepting MRV [measurement, reporting and verification] for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. At the exhibition booth they put up at COP16 their earnest PR on their domestic efforts was striking, and I rather expect that in the long-term China will be the drive shaft that pulls the other developing countries along.
We're looking to COP17 in 2011 as the moment of truth for the debate on the next framework, so there's no need just now to call out heroes and villains. For now I think we should be exploring avenues to make the discussion a meaningful one. In that sense, I think COP16 moved in an extremely good direction, conditioning and shaping the discussion as individual countries start working towards COP17 in specific and tangible ways.
Issues remain to be dealt with
--- On the other hand, the Cancun Agreement is silent on a legally binding new framework and has postponed the debate. What is the overall challenge as we work towards COP17?
Something that attracted tremendous attention at COP16 was a side event offered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). It reported on a study asking the question, “If all the targets and action pledges on global warming from individual countries were combined, would it be enough to limit the rise in temperature to within 2°C of its level before the industrial revolution?” And the conclusion was that without reductions of another five gigatonnes that scenario would not work. In other words, it poses the extremely important question of how much reduction we can manage on top of the current pledges. As things stand, the question of who is going to make reductions of how much remains put off till later, but our big challenge now, I think, is to move the discussion forward to prepare for COP17.
Japan must play a key role
--- What will be Japan's role working towards COP17?
Above all, it's about how to give concrete expression to the reductions that Japan means to achieve. And this means advancing the debate on the draft basic law on measures to cope with global warming that was shelved in the current Diet and making a reality of our greenhouse gas reductions. To date we've been saying we want to keep to the Kyoto Protocol and the broad outline without legislation, but it's extremely important that first of all we get a law through because legislation delivers an important message representing a country's attitude. The Central Environmental Council is examining concrete policy roadmaps for what steps to take doing what action on warming by 2020 or 2050, and I think it's time for us to steel ourselves in Japan to move ahead with action on warming.
Another role for Japan, though it might go without saying, is to support low-carbon development in developing countries with contributions of know-how, technology and funding. On a BAU [business as usual] basis, in 2100 developing countries will be emitting three times as much as developed countries. It will benefit not only developing countries but the whole world if we support them so they're able to take the path of low-carbon development rather than the mass-consumption pattern of growth that the developed countries did. The Cancun Agreement incorporated the establishment of a Green Climate Fund to support action on warming in developing countries, and I think COP16 was explicit on the course of support and assistance for low-carbon development.
We've heard the complaints from industry that setting reduction targets too high would impact their international competitiveness, but it's no longer productive to have that sort of argument about these numbers. If you look around, you'll see that the competition is already a fierce one over how to win the day through technological capability. All there is to say about preventing warming is that technology is the only means to do so. People say Japan is a world power in energy conservation, but the fact is Japan's capabilities in energy conservation have levelled off these past 15 years. In May 2010 Republic of Korea launched its Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), demonstrating a positive attitude in which public and private sector join together in the pursuit of a green growth strategy, and it seems that Japan's been overtaken. It seems to me that what we need to do is to position greenhouse gas reductions as a national growth strategy and to pitch our technological capabilities to developing countries and all the rest of the world.
The LCS movement gathers pace
--- The Cancun Agreement also calls on emerging economies such as China and India to make certain reductions. What impact will this have on Asian action on warming?
The Cancun Agreement's call for emerging economies to make certain reductions paves the way for action on warming in Asia. It will be difficult in some respects, politically and diplomatically, but I think action on warming in Asia will make substantive progress. India is taking bold action on warming and at COP16 seemed to have quite a bit of leeway, even taking on a mediator role. China, which is also implementing a range of domestic policies, is considering spelling out CO2 reductions in its next, 12th five-year plan, and I expect it to develop efforts that are even further along. And as what you might call the elder brother among developing countries, I think China will also be pushing technical assistance from the business perspective. Here again Japan seems to be a late mover. In terms of the public and private sector working together, it's already the Europeans who have more influence among Asian countries than Japan.
As far as specific measures go, an important challenge for Asian countries will be to make reductions on the consumption end as well as in production. In particular, urbanisation will continue to advance in Asia. It's possible that we will see an acceleration of policies and investment towards the construction of compact, low-carbon cities that feature a package of technologies such as smart grids and public transport systems like the Shinkansen (Bullet Train).
--- As work continues in Asia on warming action, what role will IGES's policy studies concerning Asia have to play?
As a policy research institute concerned with Asia, IGES is building close relationships with Asian governments and institutions. What IGES must do, I think, is to formulate farsighted strategies with a view to providing the traction for Japanese policy so that the Asian countries that are achieving astonishing economic growth will be able to take the path of sustainable, low-carbon development.
And from the broad perspective of building sustainable low-carbon societies, IGES serves as secretariat for “the International Research Network for Low Carbon Societies (LCS-RNet) (http://lcs-rnet.org/)”, an international initiative for a research network generating ideas for low-carbon societies, and I expect another important role will be to promote shared know-how and efforts in different countries so that the world will achieve low-carbon societies as early as possible.
--- Thank you very much.