The international community reached a historical agreement at the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP21) to protect the future of humankind.
The meeting, which took place in Paris, drew to a close after all parties adopted the Paris Agreement, which stipulates a new framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 onward. The accord is insufficient to put a complete stop to global warming, but we welcome the fact that all countries and regions participating in the conference -- including the world's two biggest greenhouse gas emitters, the United States and China -- were able to reach an agreement. We hope this will prove to be a watershed moment in the modern world's shift away from its dependence on fossil fuels.
The Paris Agreement requires all 196 countries and regions party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to establish and reach self-directed emission cut targets. It explicitly states the goal of keeping the rise in average global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and encourages parties to make efforts to keep the increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre- Industrial Revolution levels.
The treaty also called for parties to reach a peak in global greenhouse emissions as soon as possible, and to effectively reach zero emissions by the latter half of this century. Each party will also be required every five years to review their emission goals submitted to the U.N., and to take stock of progress being made worldwide; this stipulation is proof of a global roadmap for tackling the issue of global warming.
Adopted in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol instituted legally-binding emission reduction targets on developed countries only, in response to the arguments of developing countries that developed countries were historically responsible for global warming. The U.S., however, withdrew from the treaty, citing damaging effects to its economy.
Meanwhile, emissions by China and India swelled, and the treaty lost its viability.
Global warming, however, is a problem common to all of humankind, and cannot be overcome through the efforts of any one country alone. The greatest accomplishment of the Paris Agreement is the abolition of the simplified division of requirements imposed on developed and developing countries in the Kyoto Protocol, instead adopting an all-hands-on-deck approach.
The coordinated terrorist attacks that took place in Paris in November encouraged the world to come together on this treaty. As French President Francois Hollande said at the opening of the talks, "I can't separate the fight with terrorism from the fight against global warming," those who are poor are hit hardest by abnormal weather and natural disasters, which are both brought on by global warming. That, in turn, produces refugees and instigates conflict, which then breeds terror. The treaty has shown that the world shares this understanding.
To encourage the participation of developing countries, developed party nations made some compromises. They promised to establish global targets toward reducing damage from global warming, and made themselves legally responsible for providing financial assistance to developing countries.
Until the very end of the conference, however, the scope of such financial assistance remained a point of deep contention. Developing parties sought that a set amount of funds be incorporated into the treaty, a move that developed parties opposed, since they wanted to avoid being tied down to a specific amount of future government spending. Ultimately, specific targets were not written into the treaty, but in a separate, non-legally binding document, it was stipulated that a new quantified target of a minimum of $100 billion would be established by 2025.
It was an ingenious compromise put forth by France, which chaired the conference. But if the payment of financial assistance were to fall behind, there will undoubtedly be pushback from developing parties, so how developed parties handle the issue will be of crucial importance. It is essential, also, for China and other emerging parties with a certain level of economic muscle to make proactive contributions.
During COP21, leaders of the world's major corporations flocked to announce their bold new emission-reducing plans. With the adoption of the Paris agreement, many of the world's corporations are expected to steer themselves toward moves that will help us phase out carbon.
What is unfortunate, however, is that out of consideration for the U.S. and China, fulfillment of each country's emission targets was not made legally binding. U.S. President Barack Obama sought conditions that he could agree to without having to bring the issue before the U.S. Republican Party, which has an advantage in Congress and adopts a passive attitude toward global warming. China, meanwhile, insisted that it is still a developing country, and likewise opposed setting legally binding reduction targets.
Over 180 countries and regions have submitted their emission-reduction targets to the U.N., but according to analyses by an international agency, the "less than 2 degrees Celsius" goal cannot be reached, even if all the parties are to fulfill their goals. Unless all countries work together to raise emission-reduction targets on a global scale, we cannot avoid the dangers that come with global warming. The U.S. and China, in particular, have a heavy responsibility.
For the time being, the treaty should be put into effect as soon as possible, and the system of reviewing progress every five years should be carried out effectively.
The Japanese government submitted to the U.N. its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent compared to 2013 levels by 2030. At the conference, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised steady efforts toward fulfilling targets and an expansion of financial support to developing countries. Now, the government will move toward ratification of the treaty by drawing up specific measures to achieve its anti-global warming goals.
The creation of an energy framework that does not rely on fossil fuels is a great opportunity for Japan, in terms not only of technological development, but also of economic revival and environmental conservation.
To formulate its new measures, the government must take a long-term view of complete carbon elimination in adherence to the Paris Agreement's goal of bringing down emissions to zero by the second half of this century. By beefing up domestic measures, Japan can bolster its influence on the international stage.
First, Japan should focus its efforts on expanding the renewable energy industry and encouraging further energy-saving measures. The Abe administration is pushing the reactivation of Japan's nuclear power plants. But after having experienced the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, it is Japan's duty to strike a balance between nuclear phaseout and environmental protection.