Doha goals and climate change politics
For the next two weeks you may expect an increase in media coverage about climate change negotiations, as the COP18 meeting has started today in Doha, Qatar. The conference is going to be filled with side events, but the most important decisions will be probably (as usually) left for the last hours of the meeting. Let's hope it will not end up with the lowest common denominator. The summit will end on December 7, and it is supposed to bring the world several important results:
- Plan for the Ad hoc working group for the Durban Platform (ADP) so that a new legally binding climate agreement can be reached by 2015
- Action on the Long-term Finance, so $100 billion/year promised to countries vulnerable to climate change can become a reality
- Guidance in implementation of REDD+ (which stands for UN-led program: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest degradation; "+" means including forest conservation, sustainable management of forests and afforestation efforts), and guidance in adaptation measures
The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in the end of this year, and the decision about the second commitment period, which was supposed to be made three years ago in Copenhagen (COP15), has been left to the last moment. Right now only the European Union, Norway, Switzerland and Australia are willing to continue their participation in the Protocol. Russia and Ukraine remain undecided, but Canada and New Zealand will not extend their commitments. The major emitters such as the United States, China, India, Brazil don't have any commitments under the Protocol, which continues to frustrate other countries. I recommend checking out the chart showing the climate change politics made by Aljazeera. Let's take a closer look at the Japan's position in the climate change negotiations this year.
Recent developments in Japanese climate change policies
In recent years Japan has tried to be more engaged in international climate change politics and even to exercise an environmental leadership. Various prime ministers developed Japan's initiatives on how to lead to global transition to low-carbon societies. The culmination moment was the PM Hatoyama's announcement of -25% emission reduction target in comparison to 1990 levels by 2020, which was made before the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. The announcement was met with harsh criticism at home, where the industry blamed the Hatoyama administration for not having consulted this decision and for no clear vision on how to achieve such a target. Although the goal is ambitious and in line with the recommendations of world renown scientists, high energy costs and already high energy efficiency in Japan leaves little room for improvements for example in comparison with China, where so called marginal abatement costs of climate change policies are much lower than in Japan. The climate issue became unpopular in Japan, and emission trading scheme proposed by PM Hatoyama failed.
Under the Kyoto Protocol Japan is supposed to reduce greenhouse gases emissions by 6% in comparison to 1990 levels. This -6% cut applies to the period 2008-2012. The graph below shows the current state of Japan's emissions (source: MOFA, click to enlarge the picture).
|Japan's greenhouse gases emissions|
It may be expected that the climate change issue fell even lower on the governmental agenda after the Fukushima accident. Japan has announced that it will not participate in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. However, don't jump into conclusions that this decision was caused by the nuclear disaster. The Japanese government was unwilling to participate in the extended Kyoto Protocol even before March 2011, although it didn't make it clear then. The official position was that Japan would join the second commitment period ONLY IF the United States and China did so, and the prospects for that were dim.
However, the nuclear accident in Fukushima has led to interesting developments in Japan. After long considerations, the government finally decided in September 2012 to gradually phase out nuclear power by the 2030s. The nuclear power was for a long time associated with climate change policies, which is a highly controversial issue. Japan has finally created a strategy for increasing renewable energy by introducing a feed-in tariff scheme and promised investments on a large scale to commercialize use of solar and wind power. The government has also announced a carbon tax this year.
When it comes to the -25% mitigation target, we have to wait and see. In September 2012 the government initiated the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment, and it is supposed to decide on the Global Warming Action Plan for 2013 in the end of 2012. However, the problem is that the climate change issue isn't on the agenda of the coming election to the House of Representatives. The most prominent issues that are gaining attention in Japan are the TPP free trade talks, nuclear energy, economy and territorial disputes with China and South Korea. It is worrying because in the light of the alarming prognosis made recently (ex. "Turn down the heat" report issued by the World Bank, "Emissions Gap" report published by UNEP, WMO's "Greenhouse Gas Bulletin" or PwC "Low Carbon Economy Index"), climate change should be constantly discussed by policy makers.
Japan's role at Doha Summit
It is unlikely that Japan will play a prominent role in the negotiations. In recent years the focus has been on the United States and the BRICS countries. Even the EU united with the LDCs and small island states has gained less attention. Historically, Japan belonged to so called Umbrella Group, and chose a mediator's role between the U.S. and the EU. This time, Japan wants to promote three initiatives at the meeting:
- East Asia Low Carbon Growth Partnership - which has started this year in April with the meeting on ministerial level with Indonesia (one of the largest emitters in Asia). Partnership aims at developing strategies on low carbon growth, on how to use market and technology and how to enhance networks in the region. Next year talks will be with Cambodia.
- Joint Crediting/ Bilateral Offset Credit Mechanism - it is a complementary scheme to the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism). In this mechanism, Japan implements mitigation actions in a partner country (by using low carbon technologies, products, systems, or by building an infrastructure), and emissions reduced there are counted as reductions in Japan. Japan wants to start JCM from 2013 and has talked about it to Indonesia, Vietnam and Mongolia. There have been studies about implementing it in 30 countries.
- Fast Start Finance - Japan has committed to provide $15 billion in the period 2012-2015 . It is controversial that the Japanese funds come from its development assistance and not from additional funds as it is formally required by the international commitments made at the recent COP meetings. Already 13.2 billion have been implemented (according to the data from February 2012). However, the focus seems to be not on the most vulnerable countries, since Africa got only 1.39 billion, the LDCs 0.92 billion, and the SIDS (Small Island Developing States) merely 0.08 billion.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has announced to co-host several side events on topics such as international partnership on Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), support for climate change policies in Vietnam, and development of National Forest Monitoring System for REDD+.
As you can see, the Japanese agenda for the Doha Climate Change Conference does not include dealing with the United States or influencing the BRICS. It is rather a strategy to promote own initiatives of a limited range than a plan to go for a global agenda-setting role. In my opinion, the negotiations are likely going to grab the world's attention, but don't expect Japan to appear in the headlines.
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