Table Speech

The Paris Agreement and the Challenges of Energy and Global Warming Policies of Japan

March 15, 2017

Mr. Jun Arima
Professor, Graduate School of Public Policy,
University of Tokyo

 Today, I would like to talk about the Paris Agreement adopted in 2015 and some challenges ahead. Based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in 1992, the Kyoto Protocol was concluded in 1997 and established numerical targets for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions during the first commitment period 2008-2012. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration decided not to support the Protocol in 2000. Japan ratified the Protocol and engaged in active negotiations to bring the major emitters, U.S.A. and China, on board to make the Protocol a fair and effective instrument. As a Chief Negotiator of Japan, I participated in the discussions on how to deal with climate change beyond 2012. COP 16 and the Cancun Agreements concluded in 2010 ensured greater transparency in emission reporting by all countries. The Durban Platform was adopted during COP 17 the following year, which recognized the need to draw up the blueprint for negotiations beyond 2020.

 I admit negotiations over how to combat global warming have been tough, as countries are engaged in both environmental and economic negotiations. It is challenging to strike an agreement on how to share the costs of GHG reduction among member states trying to safeguard national interests. What is more, negotiations have taken on a socio-economic and political character of North-South divide. The principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” recognizes the historical responsibility of the developed countries in causing global warming and the greater responsibility they ought to take. Such a view, however, can entrench dichotomy between the developing and developed countries. The decision-making process based on unanimous approval also caused slow progress. Other factors leading to tough negotiations were that countries had to make numerical analysis and negotiations amidst some scientific uncertainties related to global warming, while civil societies set high expectations which caused a widening gap between the target and real outcomes of the conferences.

 After overcoming these challenges, the world was thrilled to witness the Paris Agreement adopted by consensus during COP 21. Let me highlight two major points. Firstly, the Agreement is an experiment in a top-down / bottom-up mix approach to global cooperation. Governments went through extensive negotiations and agreed to a top-down target to keep global temperature rise “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial level. Now each country must act to deliver their commitments through the bottom-up “pledge and review” process by preparing, communicating and maintaining Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to ensure transparency and multilateral approach. Secondly, it was decided that the Paris Agreement would enter into force when at least 55 countries, representing 55% of global emissions, have deposited their instruments of ratification. With the prompt ratification by the U.S.A, China, Canada, Mexico and the eight EU countries, the Agreement took effect in November 2016, much earlier than expected. As countries are yet to agree on detailed rules, it was agreed last year that they would be adopted at COP 24 in 2018.

 Now, let me share my evaluation on the Paris Agreement, in light of the past 12 COP negotiations I had participated in. Firstly, I welcome the establishment of an all-inclusive framework that commits every country, including the U.S.A. and China, to the “pledge and review” process. The biggest problem, however, is how to make the unrealistic mitigation target consistent with the realistic “pledge and review” mechanism. To achieve the ambitious 2°C target through what countries have pledged in their NDC, the emission gap is estimated to reach an enormous 15 billion tons of CO2. I must say the only feasible solution is to enhance innovative technological developments.

 Let me also comment on what the possible impact of the Trump Administration on emissions and global warming will be. President Trump has repeatedly expressed skepticism over global warming through his election campaigns. I must say his stance is endorsed by his “America First Energy Plan” and “100-day Action Plan to Make America Great Again” which emphasize to make maximum use of fossil fuels in the U.S.A. to achieve energy independence from nations hostile to their interests. The Administration also tries to take advantage of the estimated 50 trillion dollars in untapped shale, oil, natural gas and coal reserves, especially those on federal lands, while it strives to eliminate harmful regulations on the energy industry. It also indicates to cancel billions in payments to the climate change programs and to revisit the Paris Agreement with the possibility to withdraw. President Trump appointed two outspoken climate change skeptics, Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Rick Perry as Energy Secretary.

 Having said that, I am optimistic that countries will continue to work towards building a low-carbon world in the medium-to-long-term framework. Global companies are enhancing their low-carbon initiatives and the costs for clean energy technologies are declining. But I remain cautious about achieving the 2°C target because despite the Cancun Agreements in 2010 which had set the same target temperature, we witnessed an increase in the global carbon emissions. If we are to get all countries committed to the target temperature, we must translate it into concrete figures like the amount of emission cut of each country. But developing countries will not accept it, as they tend to focus on ensuring energy access, economic growth and energy security. Should developed countries come to suffer from an economic slump and employment uncertainty, it can be more difficult to implement measures against global warming that could cost the economy.

 I am convinced that countries will move forward with the “pledge and review” process of the Paris Agreement. But if the world’s second largest emitter comes to place national interests above all, I must say our path ahead will be full of twists and turns.