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Japan aims at green leadership

By Titli Basu
March 06, 2009 16:11 IST
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World is gearing up for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference scheduled in Copenhagen from November 30 to December 11. A Copenhagen Protocol is expected to evolve as the Kyoto Protocol will run out beyond 2012.

Being at the centre stage of the Kyoto framework, Japan continues to aspire for a leadership position in the post Kyoto regime. Japan's vision is to establish a fair and equitable framework by evolving a mechanism which enables each country to take measures according to its capacity to combat climate change beyond 2012.

Response to the climate crisis requires collective political will to restructure the dominant economic development model. The current global meltdown further complicates the issue.

Japan's aspiration for green leadership runs deep. Complex interplay of domestic and transnational pressures shaped Japanese approach in the 1980s.

  • Japan is an excellent case of being an economic giant whose ability to influence international politics is severely limited despite manifest desire to play a larger role. Japan's attempts to enjoy political status commensurate with its economic clout enjoyed only minimal success.

Art. 9 of the Peace Constitution and Japan's aggressive historical baggage in the region proved to be a stumbling block in this pursuit. With the bubble economy, Japanese desire for kokusaika i.e. internationalization grew stronger than ever. This coincided with the prevailing wave of the global environmental movement.

The issue of environment appeared attractive and politically safe, unlike the issue of dispatching Self Defense Forces overseas.

1. Internationally, there was sharp criticism of Japan's 'shadow ecology' in South East Asia. The much talked about 'economic miracle' produced 'pollution debacle'.

Japan Inc. was accused of mindlessly addicted to the singular pursuit of increasing competitiveness in international trade at the cost of environment.

Japanese State was accused of nurturing a corrupt business-politician-bureaucratic iron triangle to facilitate economic policies. Japan decided to respond. Japanese business perceived lucrative opportunities in green technology. So, Japan's response is often interpreted as reactive rather than a proactive one.

2. In the 21st century when Asia is considered to be the epicenter of world politics with the dynamic rise of China, Japan's crave for shouldering larger regional and international responsibilities is obvious. In the midst of a roaring economy, China's environmental problems are multiplying. Japan clearly has an edge over China on "green issues".

On its way to Copenhagen, Japan has smartly nurtured its ambition of green leadership.

As one of its latest initiatives, Japan launched world's first Greenhouse Gas Observing Satellite, Ibuki, from Tanegashima Space Center, on 23rd January, 2009. Under the aegis of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Ibuki is expected to monitor the density of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) over five years.

This has triggered a 'Green Space Race'. United States will be following soon as NASA is planning to launch Orbiting Carbon Observatory(OCO) and the Glory Satellites in 2009. European Space Agency's Cryosat-2 is also scheduled for this year.

Protecting global environment is a dominant theme in Japanese diplomacy since the 1990s.

Japan hosted the Third Conference of Parties(COP) to the UNFCCC in Kyoto on 11th December,1997. In the 2007 Heiligendamm G-8 Summit, Shinzo Abe proposed "Cool Earth 2050". It calls for halving the global emission by 2050.

In the 2008 G-8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit, Yasuo Fukuda proposed a sectoral approach as an effective tool to develop a 'low carbon society by 2050'.

World has witnessed a change in the Japanese environmental political landscape. The 1980s popular pro-development versus the pro-environment debate was laid to rest in the 1990s.

The 1990s saw ecological restructuring with a host of progressive green legislations to achieve a 'zero emission' society.

The 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) Policy strongly establish the principle of mottainai (recycling). Unlike the 1990s, 'green issues' are no longer a victim of politics between Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and Ministry of Environment (MOE). Under Taro Aso, a 'Green New Deal' is on its way to counter the challenge.

Today when green tech is considered to be the next investment bubble, Japan ranks third in the world for sophisticated green technologies dominating 20 per cent of the international environmental technology market. Be it next generation green automobiles (Toyota Prius) or world's largest hydrogen town(Fukuoka Hydrogen Town model) or investment in research and development, Japan leads the way. Smart players strategize, innovate, create value and gain competitive advantage.

However, its a long and a difficult road ahead. At the moment no action seem to be enough to battle the grave crisis. Despite intentions, countries including Japan have severely failed to deliver on their Kyoto commitments. Expanding carbon sinks and purchasing carbon credits are often counted as alternatives.

Japan has emitted 1.37 billion tones of GHG in 2007 which is 8.7 per cent more than the 1990 level.

Sectoral analysis show that emission from the industrial sector has registered improvements but residential, commercial and transport sector leaves much to be desired. Hit by the last year's severe earthquake, country's largest nuclear power plant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa is not operational which compelled the use of thermal power.

Nonetheless, Japan has devised excellent policy mechanism to deliver better. But they will need time to mature before they get reflected on the fact sheets.

Japan moves to Copenhagen with a genuine desire to establish its green identity. Japan advocates a sectoral approach by thoroughly analysing reduction potential and thereby setting ambitious and feasible national reduction targets for developed countries.

Japan is expected to support the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities'. Japan should lead from the front in pushing for effective technology transfer to the developing nations which will lay a stronger base for Japan's claim for green leadership.

The author is a research scholar at the Jawharlal Nehru University.
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