Global environmental challenges
Substance trumps style at climate talks
Japan was determined to display its green credentials at weekend G20 talks, one of the biggest meetings of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters since last December’s Bali gathering. Even conference staff were given chopsticks and traditional “bento” boxes that could be reused instead of the usual throw-away items.
Inside the conference hall, though, delegates were more interested in substance than style as they discussed ways to agree on a global pact by the end of 2009 to curb growing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
And for most delegates, Japan came up very short indeed.
Japanese ministers told the gathering, ranging from G8 nations to big developing countries China, India, Brazil and Mexico, that combining individual emissions reductions targets for industries is one way to come up with national goals to fight climate change.
But the plan met resistance from developing nations and a number of rich nations in the group that said the idea lacked clarity and didn’t fully cater to poorer states’ individual circumstances for their industries. It was also unclear if the targets were voluntary or mandatory.
Developing nations say they need more money and clean energy technology from rich nations to clean up their steelmills and power stations and that developed nations should do more to curb their emissions, too. That means clear and binding emissions targets.
The European Union said Tokyo should get serious by adopting an emissions trading scheme, something Japan’s powerful business lobby has been reluctant to adopt until recently.
But Japan, the world’s number two economy and fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter, balks at fixed emissions targets, preferring other benchmarks that have attracted criticism for being vague. This might seem strange for a nation whose ancient capital, Kyoto, is where the protocol was agreed more than a decade ago and is also struggling to meet its Kyoto reduction targets.
Japan’s prime minister said earlier this year the government would instead back a global energy efficiency target of 3o percent by 2020 and spend billions in R&D in achieving this. Tokyo also backs a 50 percent emissions reduction target by 2050 but hasn’t fully settled on the base year.
Europe, by comparison, says it backs a reduction of at least 20 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels but is struggling to enact laws to achieve this, keen to ”avoid excessive costs for member states”.
All this means the world is a long way from agreeing by the end of next year a global pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol, whose first period runs to the end of 2012.
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