Authors' Words

A Re-examination of the Global Warming Problem

A Re-examination of the Global Warming Problem

Economic Policy Review Series (Japanese)
A Re-examination of the Global Warming Problem

  • Written and edited by SAWA Akihiro and SEKI Soichiro

Editor's Introduction

* This publication is in Japanese. An English translation is not available.

This book is written in an effort to provide solutions to problems related to global warming. It examines such areas as negotiations on an international framework for dealing with global warming, the domestic policy formation process, technology development and also the scientific aspects of the subject.

If people were asked what issues threaten the survival of the human race or modern civilization, how would they answer? A few decades ago, the answer probably would have been the threat of nuclear war; but now, many people are likely to cite global environmental problems, particularly global warming.

Maintaining world peace and preserving the global environment both require cooperation between nations. Although the danger of a global nuclear conflict has greatly receded with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the lessons learned from the ordeals of two world wars and the Cold War, global warming has become the focus of international interest. It is a problem for which humankind must fully mobilize its science, technology, politics, and economy in order to find a genuine solution.

With regard to global warming, the international community has developed a framework called the Kyoto Protocol. However, the protocol only set reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions for the period from 2008 to 2012; it does not deal with ways to secure a long-term solution through technological breakthroughs. What is more, the United States, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, has not ratified the protocol; and developing countries whose emission levels are rising sharply are exempt from the reduction obligations. While the Kyoto Protocol can be praised as a first step toward solving the problem, it lacks the practical focus required to solve the problem on a global basis, and thus it cannot be called a framework with long-term sustainability.

Why, despite the fact that the protocol represents the best international understanding we have of the global warming problem, has the Kyoto agreement not yet provided an effective framework? Our view, when planning this book, was that it may be because people tend to overlook the fact that each sovereign states operate on the assumption that they will pursue their own national interests when discussing measures to tackle global warming, and even when debating a framework to protect the global environment they are actually bound by realpolitik, which assumes that each state acts toward its own interest. As we have outlined in this book, many of the events that have taken place to date, including the negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol and the withdrawal of the U.S. from the framework, can be explained not by ideals and perceptions regarding environmental protection but by realpolitik.

Of course, it is easy to say that every country should cast their individual interests aside and work toward a common goal since we are talking about the preservation of the global environment, an issue of the greatest importance for the survival of the human race. However, when we look at the history of international negotiations on various issues, this sort of ethical and moral suasion is not decisive in talks among sovereign states. Entrusting the resolution of this issue to goodwill and ethics alone may even make a realistic resolution to this problem more unattainable. In order to expedite efforts to curb global warming, it is necessary instead to look at what constitutes a sustainable framework to resolve the problem over the long term in a way that takes into account realpolitik of sovereign states aggressively pursuing their national political and economic interests.

Similar problems exist within each country. Many people experiencing the changes in weather patterns in recent years fear that global warming is already becoming a reality and that a civilization totally dependent on fossil fuels is unsustainable. However, at the same time, they hope the U.S. economy, which is the world's largest market, will continue to grow. They worry about the ups and downs of their own economies, which are greatly affected by the U.S., and they cannot be indifferent to such matters as their own job stability and preparations for old age. Furthermore, most people would be reluctant to change the consumption habits they have gained through higher incomes. And there are even more pressing economic needs among countries that have yet to enjoy the blessings of economic development.

In fact, there is a conflict between these long-term interests and current economic interests and this conflict is unlikely to be resolved by existing technology. Leaders in every country strive to achieve greater economic growth in order to gain the support of their citizens. However, at present, although there is some variation in degree, there is almost without exception a positive correlation between a country's economic growth and its greenhouse gas emissions.

We have seen many cases where sensible people with a keen interest in environmental issues have taken action and have become pioneers in resolving environmental problems. These problems include pollution, waste disposal and recycling. Indeed, it is expected that such voluntary action will also bear fruit when it comes to global warming issues.

However, unlike other environmental problems, because the causes of greenhouse gas emissions are rooted in nearly all aspects of people's lives and economic activity, measures that rely solely on people's goodwill and conscientiousness cannot bring about the ultimate solution. While it will be difficult, we must be realistic and recognize that consumers pursue satisfaction and comfort with a view to improving their standard of living, and that any solution must be compatible with this desire. Even in Europe, where the public is said to be very conscious of environmental issues, the percentage of cars equipped with air conditioners is increasing, and this has become a factor in lower fuel efficiency. When we consider the desires of people in developing countries, who are striving to raise their living standards and join the ranks of industrialized nations, it is easy to see the difficulty of solving this problem.

In Japan, there was a major debate in 2002 involving politicians, civil servants, industry bodies and nongovernmental organizations over how to achieve the reduction obligations stipulated in the Kyoto Protocol, and what kind of domestic measures needed to be implemented upon its ratification. This debate generated huge interest among the general public. During these discussions, the thesis "compatibility of the environment and the economy" was adopted as the nation's guiding principle. This principle represents the realistic aspects that measures to tackle global warming must embody.

This book looks at how to solve the problem of global warming by shedding light on such elements as negotiations for an international framework, the domestic policy formation process, technological development, and the quest for scientific findings on the global warming mechanism based on the condition that various entities, such as sovereign states, corporations and consumers, act based on realistic principles.

The majority of media commentary on environmental issues, and on global warming in particular, both at home and abroad, addresses the importance of environmental protection from an ethical standpoint. For example, there is no critical analysis from the viewpoint of realpolitik regarding the Kyoto Protocol's content and approaches as is done in this book. There is even a tendency for the media to exercise self-censorship and ignore arguments that may be seen as being passive toward environmental protection efforts. This book attempts to challenge this taboo. This book will have been successful if the analysis it contains, which aims to translate the abstract goal of "compatibility of the environment and the economy'' into realistic policies, provides new hints to policymakers and the general public toward a real solution to the problem of global warming.

SAWA Akihiro and SEKI Soichiro

September 2003


SAWA Akihiro

SAWA Akihiro

Akihiro Sawa is director of the Policy Planning Division of Natural Resources and Fuel Department of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and a Consulting Fellow at REITI. He joined the Ministry of International Trade and Industry after graduating from Hitotsubashi University and served as director of the Personnel Division of the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology, director of research at RIETI, and director of the Environmental Policy Division of the Industrial Science and Technology Policy and Environment Bureau. His major publications include University Reform: Issues and Controversies (co-authored with Masahiko Aoki and Michihiro Daito) Toyo Keizai, 2001; and The Responsibility of Universities for Bringing About a Research Crisis, Ronza, 2000.

SEKI Soichiro

SEKI Soichiro

Soichiro Seki is a counselor at the Japanese Mission to EU. He joined the Ministry of International Trade and Industry after graduating from Tokyo University and served as director of the Global Environmental Affairs Office of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry from 2001 to 2003.