Tuesday, Jul. 08, 2008

Viewpoint: How to Cool Down

Following the U.N. conference on climate change in Bali last year, negotiations on an international framework to follow the Kyoto Protocol after 2012 are now under way. So naturally, climate change will be a key agenda item at the G-8 summit Japan is hosting this month.

As it stands, the Kyoto Protocol covers only around 30% of global greenhouse-gas emissions due to the withdrawal of the U.S. from its terms, and because major economies such as China and India are not obligated to cut their emissions. It is crucial that all major emitters should participate in the post-2012 international framework, so that emissions can be reduced on a global scale. At the same time, both diffusion of existing technologies into the developing world and the advancement of innovative technologies will be crucial to worldwide emissions reduction.

In June last year, the Japanese government adopted three principles toward reducing greenhouse-gas emissions: the participation of all major emitters; the need for a flexible policy framework that makes allowances for circumstances in each country; and the need to ensure compatibility between economic growth and climate-change policies. In addition, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, and at a press conference in June, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda referred to the importance of ensuring that global greenhouse-gas emissions are halved by 2050. The Prime Minister also advanced proposals for establishing fair and equitable national emissions targets, promoting energy-saving in developing countries through technology transfer, and pursuing innovative green technologies.

Based on these developments, in March this year Nippon Keidanren organized its policy proposals for the G-8 talks, and in April I hosted the G-8 Tokyo Business Summit with a view to developing common understanding among businesses of the major economies. Japan possesses outstanding climate change prevention technology, and has already achieved world-leading levels of energy conservation. Utilizing this advanced technology base, Japan can demonstrate global leadership in these areas.

A key issue in promoting worldwide climate change prevention measures will be to improve energy efficiency through sector-based cooperation. Estimates show that if all other countries were to equal Japan's energy efficiency in thermal-power generation, and in iron and steel production, the annual global emissions of these sectors could be reduced by 1.7 billion metric tons and 300 million metric tons of CO2 respectively — a combined amount that is more than Japan's total annual emissions. Improving energy efficiency is of interest to all countries, not only because it will reduce CO2, but also because it will ease the current imbalance between energy supply and demand, and lead to lower energy costs. Japan is currently playing a leading role in the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate in developing benchmarks and providing technology cooperation in major sectors, which assists energy conservation.

Technology is Crucial
The breakthroughs enabled by the development of innovative technologies will be a decisive factor in achieving the long-term goal of halving world greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. In March, Japan's government, working with the private sector, created the Cool Earth — Innovative Energy Technology Program, which is designed to prioritize investment in technology development and promote international cooperation. Some of the technologies selected by the program include: ccs (Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage), innovative photovoltaic power generation and plug-in hybrid vehicles. I believe that Japan has the potential to contribute to the world as a technology leader.

Debate under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will become increasingly vigorous as the international community works toward the goal of establishing a post-2012 international framework by the end of 2009. The upcoming G-8 summit is likely to stand as an important milestone in this process. I hope to see Japan lead the way toward the creation of a global low-carbon society through the participation by all major emitters, improved energy efficiency and the development of innovative technologies.

Fujio Mitarai is the chairman of Nippon Keidanren