International efforts to prevent global warming have begun to rapidly accelerate.
This change has come about since U.S. President Joe Biden, who puts a high priority on climate change, has returned the United States to the Paris Agreement, from which it had withdrawn under the Trump administration. This has set the country on a course to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
China and the U.S., the first and second largest emitters, together account for an overwhelming 40% of the world’s total GHG emissions. The original aim of the Paris Agreement to have the participation of both of countries will finally be realized.
I would like to welcome this news as a big step forward, but that would be naive. Rather, we must view it as the start of a transition to a more difficult phase for Japan. In short, efforts to prevent global warming, such as the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), also bring about economic warfare, with the national interests of each country at stake.
At Biden’s request, a summit will be held on April 22 via teleconference to discuss measures to prevent global warming.
Before withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, in 2013 the U.S. had announced a 26-28% reduction in GHG emissions compared to 2005 levels. A much higher target is likely to be announced at the upcoming summit.
Ironically, the bigger a country’s emissions, the more influence it has. China has openly set a reduction target that implies its emissions will increase up to 2030, and has continued to stand its ground.
The U.S., a late entrant, is trying to take the lead in negotiating reductions for a global green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the U.K. and the European Union, which pride themselves on being pioneers in the climate issue, are also resolutely stepping up to decarbonize.
Japan must not get lured into comparisons of high reduction targets, especially considering that Japan’s GHG emissions only account for roughly 3% of the world’s total. Japan has little maneuvering room for domestic reductions from the introduction of advanced energy-saving technologies, so its focus should be on effectiveness, not on how high the target is.
If Japan spreads its advanced coal-fired power generation technologies to developing countries, our contribution to the planet as a whole will be much greater than any efforts in domestic reductions.
In international negotiations, we need to break free from the spell of numerical targets. I hope that Prime Minister Suga can confidently make his case at the summit.
We must work to prevent a confrontation between the U.S. and China, the world’s biggest emitters, and at the same time win the respect of developing countries. This is the path that technologically-advanced Japan should take.