Japan's policy on climate change 
toward the resumed session of COP6
(20 June 2001, at The Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan)
Yoriko Kawaguchi
Minister of the Environment

Let me start off today just by mentioning how pleased I am to be able to speak to you here today. As many of you know the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol is an issue that is very dear to my heart, as I have been involved intensively in international negotiations on climate change for the past one year. I am especially glad to see so many of you here today, a mere month away from the reopening of COP6 negotiations about the working rules of the Kyoto Protocol. As you know there have been certain developments in the international arena which have made the upcoming negotiations unusually challenging but there have also been a number of points which give us hope that we can pull out tangible results based on compromise in these sessions. Today I would like to give you my perspective on the significance of the Kyoto Protocol and in fact the Kyoto process, and then an overview of where Japan currently stands with regard to its domestic measures and efforts. I also would like to share with you my perspective on the state of negotiations, looking particularly at the role of the United States at this key time.

You might know that the Third Assessment Report of the United Nations' Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change was recently released. This report concluded two things of significance, based on the best scientific knowledge we have to date: first, that climate change is in fact occurring, and second, that it is occurring as a result of human activities. This report ends with a call to action now-not ten years from now, or twenty, when the problems resulting from the global warming trend are too severe for any of us to ignore, but here and now. Now of course, actions here and now will not 'solve' the global warming problem just like that. This is a problem that we will be dealing with for 50 years, or a hundred, or more, and one that requires a global approach, not the piecemeal approach that has defined our actions to date.

While the report's conclusions are, as I mentioned, based on the best scientific knowledge we have to date, the gaps in our knowledge are still significant, and we need much more extensive work and more comprehensive investigative research into the issues at hand. As we promote this research into the science behind climate change we must also promote technology innovation to make reductions possible and ease the pains of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, planning and implementing various initiatives through cooperative efforts that involve every country. It is not merely the science and technology but the cooperative process by which we introduce new findings that will be a key factor in our success. 

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 in Kyoto, at the third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change-better known as "COP3"-after much deliberation. Those of you who were covering the Conference will perhaps agree with me here that in many ways, the fact that we emerged with a Protocol at all is a bit of a wonder to some extent. You will recall that as the Conference was taking place, the likelihood of us emerging with any sort of fundamental agreement was becoming extremely small, and appeared to be getting smaller by the day. The fact that we emerged with a tangible fundamental agreement that brought together the extremely diverse opinions of such a wide spectrum of Parties, each having its own unique circumstances, is a real tribute to the power of Japanese diplomacy. The successful negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol represents one of the Japanese government's most significant diplomatic achievements in recent years, in my opinion. Internationally it is an achievement that should not be overlooked, as it represents the very first time that humankind came together agreeing to mitigate the threat of global warming.

Of course the Kyoto Protocol has significance beyond just what it represents as a diplomatic accomplishment. In particular I would like to emphasize two points which make the Kyoto Protocol truly unique. The first is that the Protocol establishes legally-binding quantitative targets and specific time frames under which countries are bound to attain those targets. If we consider the greenhouse gas reductions that have taken place to date through voluntary measures, it becomes clear that voluntary measures alone are not enough to bring about the drastic reductions in emissions that are necessary. Now, don't get me wrong here-I don't mean to downplay the role of voluntary measures. They have been and continue to be a key means of bringing about significant emissions reductions . But as journalists I think you can appreciate the role of a deadline in pushing you to action. Let's be honest: not many of us go to make that second pot of coffee when the deadline is the second Tuesday after next, or doesn't exist at all. No one likes to be constrained, and yet human nature, being what it is, needs a friendly push to make it go beyond the 'easy' and aim for something greater.

The second key aspect of the Protocol is that each and every country finds a role to play under this single international framework. This may not seem particularly significant at face value-all right, you may ask, so each country participates, what is the big deal about that?-but again you need to be aware of just how much of an achievement this represents. Let me say again, when we started out on this path our differences were so great that it is hard to see the coming together of all countries under this single framework as anything less than a magnificent statement on the ability of the countries of the world to join forces and cooperate, emphasizing our common future even as we recognize our different philosophies and our different circumstances. 

What I am trying to bring to you here today is a message of hope, that differences among countries do exist, but that these differences can be overcome. And Kyoto's weaknesses do exist, but its strengths are outstanding. It is global, it offers unusual flexibility in how it allows for countries to participate, and it allows for an ongoing process of evaluation and modification when future scientific inquiry sheds more light on the process of climate change and the role we humans are playing in it. The message of hope in the Kyoto process is by no means dead.

Now, you all are aware that we are in a critical period of negotiations over the future of the Protocol. Most significantly, the Bush administration announced in March that it did not support the Protocol, and the government of Japan has been working actively since then to bring the US back into the international fold.

The significance of the US's active participation in the Kyoto Protocol should not be minimized. For one reason, the US emits a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, and about 40% of all the CO2 emissions originating in developed countries. With the US as the largest emitter, it goes without saying that any measures undertaken internationally to mitigate global warming will be hindered by a lack of US participation. So, from the viewpoint of ensuring global environmental integrity, it is crucial to have the US participating. A second reason is that developing countries, which are expected to have drastically increasing emissions volumes as their economies continue to expand, are hardly likely to feel that developed countries are living up to their obligations as emitters under this scenario, with the obvious consequence of this being that it will be difficult-or, more likely, impossible-to persuade them to take on emissions reduction targets of their own, if the major, established emitters appear to be avoiding their responsibilities.

You may know that the Bush administration is undertaking a cabinet-level policy review of its approach to the issue of how to deal with climate change. Right before President Bush left for Europe for last week's US-EU summit, he specifically addressed the issue of climate change mitigation measures, saying that the Protocol was "fatally flawed," although he failed to suggest when--or if-- concrete alternative proposals would be forthcoming. I was a bit disappointed at this. That said, I was heartened at President Bush's message that the US did recognize that global warming was indeed a critical issue and that the US would not only be working in cooperation with other countries of the world but also shouldering its responsibilities. Also there were points the President mentioned that I believe Japan can support, specifically the promotion of research activities and technology and the use of market mechanisms.

As the US-EU summit got under way last week, we were all, of course, watching how the issue of climate change would be handled with great interest and anticipation. As you know the US and EU failed to reach any compromises on how they view the Kyoto Protocol itself and the issue of its ratification, and instead essentially ended with each side just confirming where exactly the other side stood. There were some points that stand out as significant, though. The two sides did agree that intensified cooperation on climate-related science and research was important, and that they were determined to work together in all relevant fora to address climate change issues. Furthermore they agreed to enter the upcoming reconvening of COP6 in Bonn next month in the spirit of active participation. Certainly these should be welcomed as steps in the right direction. 

Now there are some people out there claiming that the US's stance is going to delay the entire entry into force of the Protocol. While the importance of America's participation is not something we can downplay, at the same time I don't think that the conclusion people are drawing is one that naturally follows. You need to understand that there is still a good deal of maneuvering room here, and countries such as Japan do indeed have the opportunity to exert a lot of influence over how the US formulates its climate change policy in the months ahead. Keep in mind that the cabinet-level policy review underway in the States right now is advancing the discussion of specific measures for climate change mitigation, so there is already a push in the right direction from within President Bush's own cabinet. Add to that America's stance that it should actively draw on the wisdom of its friends and allies, and you have a very positive atmosphere in which Japan and other nations do have a good window of opportunity to shift American policy. Japan continues to push for the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol by 2002 and will continue to work actively on bringing the US back on board. 

Let me give you an update on what Japan has been doing domestically to meet its commitments under Kyoto. Japan is going full speed ahead in its efforts to meet its 6% emissions reduction target, and this is despite all the troubles Japan has seen economically over the past years. Japan sees this as a priority item and its efforts have been all-out.

I have to tell you that Japan has not been finding it easy to meet its reduction target. The targets are based on 1990 emissions levels and Japan, as a country that has always taken an active approach to energy-saving, already had in place a number of approaches that made our 1990 emissions levels relatively low. In other words we start with some numbers that are hard to improve on. But we are taking up the challenge, actively promoting improvements in technology and so on to help us meet our reductions target. Japan sees the arguably harsh reductions targets established under Kyoto as opportunities. Emissions trading, technological development, and so on are just some of the areas in which new business opportunities will be emerging as a result of Kyoto. We are taking on this challenge head-on.

In June of 1998, not long after the Kyoto Conference, Japan set forth its Guidelines of Measures to Prevent Global Warming, which established the basic policy upon which forthcoming government measures would be based, and which enabled Japan to develop such assertive and forward-looking policies as those governing energy efficiency and the development of new energies, and those promoting voluntary efforts by the private sector.

Let me give you a quick glimpse of what exactly Japan has been doing in one of these areas so you can better understand just how assertive these policies are. I don't know if you've heard of what we call the "Top Runner Approach", which was introduced as part of a package to further strengthen the Law Concerning the Rational Use of Energy. The "Top Runner Approach" promotes energy efficiency in products ranging from air conditioners to automobiles. It takes the highest energy efficiency standard in, for example, televisions, and establishes that as the minimum degree of energy efficiency for televisions manufactured a few years from now, pushing industry to come up with more and more energy-efficient products. You won't find another law like it anywhere in the world-it is the most assertive policy approach to energy-efficiency that exists.

Voluntary measures are also helping. For example, 76.5% of emissions from the industrial and energy sectors are also now targeted for reduction to 1990 emissions levels by 2010 through voluntary measures initiated by the Keidanren.

Now when we get down to actually examining emissions data we find ourselves looking at some rather stark figures. Our figures for 1998, the most recent we have available, show Japan as posting a 5% increase in emissions over 1990, the base year for comparisons under the Protocol. So now Japan finds itself 11% away from its goal of a 6% reduction, even if we do not increase emissions in the future. ...I always need to pause here when I deliver that line-there is always someone who falls off his chair or drops his pen in shock when I give those numbers. Don't feel bad; I find the numbers quite a shock, too....
But Japan continues to meet this challenge, no holds barred and head-on. In your work you might have covered the law that we passed in the Diet just this past week governing the recovery of fluorocarbons. By improving the system for recovering gases and by promoting the use of alternate materials, we expect a reduction in our emissions of 3 key gases, most notably hydrofluorocarbons, by as much as 2%. We are also working on a new policy mix that will feature economic measures prominently. 

We are particularly busy now working on our likely domestic package as part of our lead-up to the resumed session of COP6. We expect to be announcing our midterm findings before COP6 resumes. I should emphasize that our efforts to address climate change are hardly limited to those undertaken by the Ministry of the Environment. Related ministries, agencies, and other bodies, such as the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, are also working on various initiatives. 

We now have a mere month until COP6 reconvenes in Bonn. We have been actively consulting with other countries over these past few months and now in the final days our consultations are more intensive than ever. With regard to the US, Prime Minister Koizumi will be speaking with President Bush on various key points during his US visit on the 30th of this month. There also looks to be a ministerial-level delegation arriving from the EU in the near future. Although Japan and the EU are essentially in the same camp with regard to the importance of the Kyoto Protocol, Japan is hoping to get the EU to soften its stance on certain points in order to maximize the chances of bringing the US back to the Kyoto fold. I don't mean to single out just the EU here when I talk about the need for flexibility. The Kyoto Protocol is like a house being built. We have the concrete poured, the supporting beams in place, and the frame for the ceiling ready. What we are looking at now is finishing up the smaller details, trying to decide whether to plaster the walls or paper them, and we all need to approach these issues with flexibility and the spirit of cooperation.

Finally it will be crucial for developed and developing countries to work in cooperation if the resumed session is to be a success. The developed world should be promoting aid to developing countries to assist in climate-change related matters and encouraging voluntary efforts by countries. Japan announced its "Kyoto Initiative" in 1997, under which it provides assistance to developing countries in the forms of capacity building, technology transfer, and financial assistance. In 1998 and 1999 we had no less than 2800 people participating in human resource training. We will continue to act assertively in the area of assistance to developing countries.
Next week an informal ministerial meeting will be convening at The Hague under the leadership of Minister Jan Pronk, who will be serving as chair. Being only two weeks before the Bonn meeting, this meeting represents our last chance to work out our differences prior to Bonn. This is clearly an important opportunity, and I certainly hope to attend if my obligations at the Diet could possibly allow.

Whichever of Japan's efforts you look at-whether domestic policy-making or international cooperation and assistance efforts- you will see one key guiding principle reflected. Namely, Japan sees its many efforts not as a mere short-term reaction to the global warming issue, but as essential steps in ensuring that the global environment is left intact for future generations. This is how we are able to introduce such proactive policies at such a variety of levels by such a variety of social actors-Japan consistently looks at the big picture and our role in it. Japan's role as one of the key actors in coordinating the coming together of the globe through this document of the Kyoto Protocol stems exactly from that philosophy, and I am proud of my role in this process.

We need to endeavor at COP6bis so that countries' long-term vision for the planet will supercede the smaller differences we have among us.