Averting catastrophe

OUR PLANET 9.3 - Climate Change

Averting catastrophe


Ohki Global warming poses one of the most serious threats to humankind. Nearly all of the world's most respected scientists have called on governments around the world to take serious preventative action. Though we do not know exactly how climate change will manifest itself, we do know that it is occurring and that it is likely to bring catastrophic results. Our civilization must learn to curb our emissions of greenhouse gases or a climate crisis will force radical and perhaps impossible choices upon us within 50 to 100 years - or rather upon our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This is a legacy we should avoid.

Now our governments are preparing to meet and negotiate an agreement in Kyoto. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the final objective of the treaty is the 'stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.' Very few countries actually disagree with these goals.

Finding common ground

This does not mean, however, that making an agreement in Kyoto and implementing consequent actions will be an easy task. Quite the contrary. Developed countries are afraid that such actions will disturb their current economic prosperity and developing countries are expressing little enthusiasm for an agreement that could impede their economic growth. Finding a common ground is extremely difficult under these circumstances.

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto of Japan spoke at the special session of the United Nations General Assembly for review of the implementation of Agenda 21, last June, saying that 'at a minimum, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 must be lowered by the year 2100 to levels roughly double those prior to the industrial revolution'. To do this, average per capita CO2 emissions must be kept at less than 1 tonne: statistics show that per capita omissions in developed countries are currently at the level of approximately 3.6 tonnes. Achieving economic growth at the same time as a reduction of emissions is a difficult task requiring the concrete action of nations. We will require a series of new social and technological breakthroughs.

Japan has been implementing programmes that raise citizen awareness of global warming and help families find ways to save energy in daily life. At the corporate level, I am confident that safer and more efficient ways of producing and using energy will be developed. To encourage changes at the individual and corporate levels, governments will have to consider a whole array of policies and new financial incentives. Environmentally friendly energy options have to be available for developing countries if the CO2 savings of developed countries are not to be exhausted by the expanding energy consumption of developing economies. It is for this reason that Japan advocated a new Green Initiative at the special session of the United Nations. Under this programme, Green Technology and Green Aid will be extended to the countries that need them most.


Reduction targets

Before we can go further, we must reach a meaningful, realistic and equitable agreement at the Kyoto Conference. The agenda is clear. We must agree on quantified reduction targets. In addition, we must consider policy measures that can be employed in achieving these reduction targets. We must also address the future participation of developing countries in our common effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

I welcome you all to Kyoto, the centre of Japanese history and culture. Moved by the seriousness of the problem before us, we can make this Kyoto Conference the site of our first historical step in reducing greenhouse gases and stopping global warming.

On behalf of my country, I pledge to give all my energy to this effort so that we may reach our goals. Let us shape an agreement which bequeaths a beautiful and bountiful planet to our children and all generations to follow.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Climate & Action 1998
Keizo Obuchi: Into the 21st century (Looking forward) 1999
Peter Usher: Sibling rivalry (Climate & Action) 1998
Stephen O. Andersen: Industry in the lead (Ozone) 1997



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