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Editorial: COP26 the ‘last opportunity’ to avert climate catastrophe?

  • October 30, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 1:30 p.m.
  • English Press

World leaders and negotiators meeting for a key climate conference in the Scottish city of Glasgow this weekend face a challenge with crucial implications for the health of our planet. Their task is to hammer out an agreement to sharply step up international efforts to stem global warming.

 

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change kicks off Oct. 31.

 

The conference was postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the past year, the United States reversed former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement and rejoined the landmark global pact to curb climate change. In their meeting in June, the leaders of the Group of Seven leading democracies expressed their commitment to “accelerating efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions” to achieve the official Paris accord goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. But the July meeting of the Group of 20 ministers in charge of environment, climate and energy issues failed to produce any notable agreement on global warming due to a rift between industrial and emerging nations.

 

In its report released in August, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) left no room for doubt about where responsibility lies for current climate change, saying, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”

 

If the current warming rate continues, the scientific body convened by the United Nations predicted that global warming will rise 1.5 degrees around 2040. The report pointed to extreme meteorological phenomena as evidence of the serious impact of climate change, citing heatwaves, drought and heavy precipitation.

 

The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) has predicted that the world will be 2.7 degrees hotter than pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, even if current climate targets for 2030 to cut greenhouse gas emissions are realized.

 

COP26 is vital for the world’s efforts to stop global warming in the next 10 years. Its efforts are viewed by many people as “the last opportunity” for humans to avoid climate catastrophe. 

 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida decided to attend the conference. The international community must overcome disagreements to tackle the challenge together, while Japan is facing a test of its commitment to play a significant role in the undertaking.

 

The success of the conference will be measured by the urgency and aggressiveness of actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions upon which the nations agree.

Another important challenge for the conference is to hammer out details of so-called market mechanisms, including a system in which industrial countries, if they help developing nations cut emissions through aid for saving energy, can count the reduction as their own.

 

Agreements on such mechanisms should be pursued to increase policy options to achieve the emissions targets, but countries should first focus on slashing their own emissions.

 

Britain, which is hosting COP26, has adopted an aggressive stance toward phasing out coal power generation.

 

Japan’s new basic energy plan, recently endorsed by the Cabinet, promised to lower the share of coal-fired power generation in the nation’s overall electricity output to 19 percent in 2030. But a growing number of European nations have announced specific deadlines for phasing out coal. Japan needs to announce when it plans to end using coal to produce electricity as well as a time frame and road map for achieving the goal.

 

The Glasgow meeting will also discuss a carbon-free future for the auto industry. Europe has been accelerating a shift to electric vehicles, but Japan has been left behind in the race because it has adhered to promoting hybrid technology (to combine at least one electric motor with a gasoline engine). While the electric versus hybrid battle involves elements of competition for market shares, Japan needs to carefully monitor global trends, paying attention also to technological and sales factors.

 

On a global scale, China, the largest greenhouse gas emitter, India, the third biggest polluter, and Russia, the fourth largest emitter, all need to commit to sharp cuts in their emissions of heat-trapping gasses. To prod these countries into action, Japan should move in tandem with its G-7 colleagues.

 

–The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 30

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