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COP16 Closes with Adoption of Cancun Agreements [ 2010.12.22 ]

[NewsJapan.net] The 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP16), held in Cancun, Mexico, came to a close in the early hours of December 11 with the adoption of the Cancun Agreements, which offer a framework for new measures to combat global warming. With these agreements, the United States, which pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, and newly emerging countries like China and India, which are not obliged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions under the protocol, will be required for the first time to achieve a certain level of reduction. On December 12 Japan’s major newspapers reported the outcome of the meeting under such headlines as “COP16 agreements mark step toward new framework including US and China; instruct both developed and developing countries to reduce emissions” (Yomiuri Shimbun) and “New setup toward post-Kyoto framework; agreements on measures to combat global warming embrace US, China” (Asahi Shimbun). They welcomed the fact that the main emitting countries had agreed to the building of a comprehensive framework for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Yomiuri (December 12), Prime Minister Naoto Kan, speaking to the press in the evening of December 11, welcomed the outcome of the Cancun meeting, saying, “Japan’s principled stance was firmly maintained, and significant progress was seen on the main issue of bringing the United States and China into an international framework.”

Japanese Delegation Strongly Opposes Extension of Kyoto Protocol

In accordance with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was adopted in 1992 and went into effect in 1994, the Conference of the Parties has been held every year. COP3, which was held in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, adopted a protocol obliging the developed countries only to achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction ratios during the 2008–12 commitment period. At last year’s COP15 meeting in Copenhagen, it was hoped that the participants would formulate a new protocol to follow the Kyoto Protocol. Because of virulent confrontation between the developed and developing nations, however, the meeting closed with the adoption of a compromise document proposed by the presiding country, Denmark, that just “took note of” the Copenhagen Accord calling on both developed and developing nations to take various measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A sharp confrontation between the developed and developing nations came to the surface at the Cancun meeting as well, the main point of contention being the handling of the Kyoto Protocol. The Yomiuri (December 10) reported, “The Kyoto Protocol is a framework that obliges only the developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. On December 9 nine industrial organizations in Japan, including the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, issued an emergency proposal calling on the government to reject a simple extension of the Kyoto Protocol. The developing countries are strongly demanding an extension, so this is a crucial period to see whether the Japanese government can stick to its position of opposition.” At the meeting, Japan strongly opposed an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, stating that continuing the protocol alone was meaningless and that a new framework should be crafted that included the United States and China.

The draft resolution proposed by the presiding country, Mexico, on December 10, the final day of the meeting, included draft principles for a legally nonbinding reduction framework; it received agreement from the participating countries. According to the Asahi (December 12), the main points can be summarized as follows:
---The developed countries will indicate targets for their reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
---The United States, which pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, will also indicate a target.
---Newly emerging countries, including China, will be required to reduce emissions to a certain degree.
---It is unclear whether the agreements will be legally binding in the future.
---The debate on extending the Kyoto Protocol will be shelved.

Newspaper Commentaries

The five major national newspapers carried editorials on the outcome of the Cancun meeting in their December 12 editions. The common thread running through almost all of these editorials was their welcome of the fact that a simple extension of the Kyoto Protocol had been avoided.

The Yomiuri editorial remarked, “Conclusion of the extension question has been put off until next year’s COP17 meeting [scheduled to be held in Durban, South Africa] and after. As far as Japan is concerned, the worst scenario has been avoided for the time being. Japan’s stance of continuing to oppose an extension can be said to have had a considerable influence on the decision.” It emphasized, “Clearly, an extension of the Kyoto Protocol in its present form, which does not cover the two major emitting countries [the United States and China], would not lead to a reduction of global emissions.”

The Nikkei editorial noted, “This time a resolution aiming for the early compilation of a post-Kyoto protocol for 2013 and beyond was adopted, and it can be said that a path has been left for the participation of the United States and China.” The Sankei Shimbun editorial stated, “It would have had terrible consequences for both the global environment and the Japanese economy if a simple extension of the Kyoto Protocol had been decided. We highly praise Japan’s position of adhering to the correct argument from the beginning to the end of the talks and not mistaking the way to prevent global warming.”

Meanwhile, the newspaper editorials also pointed out many problems in compiling specific measures to prevent global warming. The Asahi editorial demanded speedy efforts following the Cancun meeting, stating, “The study of a new framework that includes the United States and China must be speeded up and a definite conclusion reached at COP17. It is also important to decide whether this framework will be like the Kyoto Protocol or something completely different.”

The Mainichi Shimbun editorial commented, “[The fruit of the Cancun meeting] was to upgrade the framework of the Copenhagen Accord, which had only been ‘taken note of’ until now, and make it an official document of the United Nations.” It went on, “The Copenhagen Accord includes not only Japan and Europe but also the United States and China, which are the two largest greenhouse gas emitters, and the developing countries. . . . When we think about the effectiveness of reductions, however, we cannot be optimistic, because it is not legally binding, as the Kyoto Protocol is, and numerical reduction targets are limited to voluntary declarations.” The Mainichi went on, “It is necessary for the world to pool its wisdom and compromise in order to build a mechanism for effective reductions.”

The editorials also mentioned Japan’s responsibilities from now on. The Mainichi urged the government, “Even if international negotiations become paralyzed, Japan must not halt its steps toward a low-carbon society. Of course, as well as domestic countermeasures, it is necessary to assist developing countries in achieving reductions and get as many countries as possible to understand Japan’s position. Japan must show spirit and take the initiative in building an international mechanism so that the world can break away from its dependence on fossil fuels.”

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