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Losing Canada, Japan and Russia in the climate regime: Could the solution be in Asia?

April 24, 2013

Originally published by Melissa Low via the Energy Market Authority Singapore International Energy Week Perspectives website on 11 April 2013.

Together, Canada, Japan and Russia account for 29.2 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions but the three countries had indicated they did not want to be obligated under the Kyoto Protocol beyond its first commitment period, which ended 31 December 2012. For Kyoto supporters, this is a symbolic blow and badly damages the UN climate process already weakened by divisions. But more importantly, what does this mean for Asia?

The move deals a major blow to the Convention on climate change, following the wrap-up of the most recent Doha climate talks and particularly when science is telling us that this is not the time for incremental action. To address the urgency of climate change, the process of negotiations has been targeting for a series of paramount decisions to emerge from the 2015 climate change talks, in hopes of ushering in a new era of response measures. The aim is to see a new protocol that will supersede the Kyoto Protocol by 2020. 

Not surprisingly, the exit of major emitters is cause for concern. Their emission figures are stark –Canada accounts for 690 million metric tons CO₂ equivalent (MT CO₂ eq), Japan 1.122 billion metric tons CO₂ eq, and Russia 2.192 billion metric tonnes of CO₂ eq. Together, the trio account for around 11 percent of global emissions.

To avoid locking in an irreversible path to climate change and its potentially devastating effects, there is need to reform the global economy to a low-carbon footing. The recent Doha talks remind us all that multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol which sets binding obligations for 37 industrialised nations, can be a long-drawn and complicated process of achieving that low-carbon footing. 

Furthermore, the future of the Kyoto Protocol–and indeed the entire climate regime–is on the line as big emitters formally withdraw their participation, putting the world at peril. 

Under the Copenhagen Accord, Canada was committed to reducing its GHG emissions to a level 17 percent below the 2005 level by year 2020. However, on 13 December 2011, Canada formally withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.  

Japan, the world’s fifth-biggest emitter, is overhauling its energy policies after the Fukushima crisis dampened public confidence in nuclear power, with safety fears preventing a restart of reactors that had been shut for maintenance checks. Imports of oil and gas have soared as a result. Prior to the 11 March triple disaster, Japan had pledged to reduce emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels come 2020, on condition that other industrialised countries made similar pledges. Following the Fukushima fallout, Japan’s emissions have steadily increased due to the burning of fossil fuels. It is estimated that just two of Japan’s 54 reactors are online, a sharp reduction for an industry that once supplied 30 percent of the country’s electricity.

Not unexpectedly, on 10 December 2010, the Japanese indicated that they did not intend to be under the obligation of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol after 2012. 

Russia, the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the US also announced a year ago that it did not intend to assume the quantitative emissions limitation or reduction commitment (QELRC) that binds Annex I countries, for the second commitment period.

The main source of structural power for Russia in the climate negotiations is its status as a large economy that is rich in fossil fuels. It is one of the major emitters of GHGs (5.4 percent of the world’s total), and an important player in oil and gas markets with a 5.8 percent share of the world’s proven oil reserves and nearly a 24 percent share in the global gas reserves.

Russia’s support for climate cooperation was contingent on participation by the US, China, and other major economies. Thus, at the Doha talks, Russia had quickly sided with Japan, Canada, and the US in rejecting a second commitment period.

Pulling out of Kyoto now also allows countries to avoid penalties for missing targets. This means financial contributions will be reduced. Canada currently foots 3.2 percent of the total bill, with Japan at 12.53 percent and Russia at 1.6 percent. Canada is likely to save up to C$14 billion (S$17.64 billion) going forward.

While monetary contributions may not set the UN Secretariat back by much, the formal withdrawal of these countries may spark other industrialised nations to follow suit. The result would be detrimental to the climate change progress made since 1992. 

The pulling out of major emitters means the UNFCCC will look to Asia’s largest emitters–China and India–to play an increasingly significant role in determining the success of the multilateral climate change regime. This is not only likely, but also a necessary option seeing that climate change will affect developing countries disproportionately more than rich ones. Tropical and subtropical lands are more sensitive to warming than cold or temperate countries, while rich countries can afford better flood controls and drought-resistant seeds than poor economies.

China has already overtaken the US as the world’s largest CO2 emitter. India is posed to overtake Russia as the third-largest emitter in the near future. Given their huge populations, which jointly cover almost two-fifth of the world population, it is hardly surprising the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that China and India will account for 45 percent of global energy demand growth by 2030.

The IEA also predicts that the two countries will be responsible for 80 percent of the increase in coal demand–China and India already produce a combined total of around 29 percent of the world’s emissions, and apart from Japan, are the only two Asian countries in the top 10 largest emitters of carbon dioxide globally.

That said, success at climate negotiations will not be forthcoming unless the key concerns of these Asian countries–particularly challenges pertaining to inequities–are sufficiently taken into account in the future development of climate change.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Tiffy permalink
    September 4, 2013 2:24 am

    The Fukushima Nuclear Accident happened in 11 March 2011, Japan indicated that they did not want to join the 2nd commitment period in 10 December 2010. Why is that?

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