Japan Says “Sayonara” to Kyoto Protocol

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A ritual at the COP meetings is the naming of the Fossil of the Day, a dubious recognition that the Climate Action Network International bestows upon the country who did the most to gum up negotiations on any given day of the summit. Tuesday’s award went to Japan, which has drawn plenty of attention this week for its statement that the country would not accept a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol.

Why’s that matter? Well, short of the irony that Japan is rejecting the continuation of an accord named for one of its own cities, the continuation of the protocol has grown ever more integral to negotiations. The Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first climate pact, is set to expire at the end of 2012. The negotiations over the past years have been focused on creating a successor to that accord. But discussions under the Kyoto Protocol have also continued in these meetings, as countries work out how to build upon and continue the pledges they first adopted back in 1997. Now that a new, legally binding agreement is becoming less certain (for now at least), there is increasing attention being paid to whether the parties that signed that accord will start a second commitment period with new promises to cutting planet-warming emissions. That would ensure that there is still a legally binding, global deal in place should world leaders fail to draft a new one.

But Japan is saying no way to an extension of the pact, which omits the biggest historical emitter, the US, because it was never ratified. It also does not include major emerging emitters like China. Doing so would be “meaningless and inappropriate,” Japanese vice minister for global environmental affairs Hideki Minamikawa said at a news conference last week. The country has reaffirmed its position this week that it will under no conditions agree to a second commitment period under Kyoto.

Japan’s not alone. Russia and Canada have also expressed misgivings about continuing Kyoto, which they supported then but say is outdated at this point. Japan’s negotiating team has made it clear in Cancun that they think the focus should be on a new deal that includes everyone, not extending the old one. A new agreement on Kyoto that excludes the US and China “will not lead to a fair and effective global emission reduction,” the country’s negotiating team has said. And Japan blames the US for stalling the process of forging a new pact, in addition to being the only developed nation not included under Kyoto. “If everyone else relies on US actions, then we cannot go anywhere,” Kuni Shimada, a special adviser and the former lead negotiator for the country, told Bloomberg

Japan’s reticence could create a significant impasse here. Forty countries are already committed to reductions under Kyoto; the least-developed countries fear that allowing it to expire would mean that there would be no binding commitment pushing countries to fulfill those pledges once it expires. Yet Kyoto only covers 27 percent of all global emissions—which is, of course, the major reason a new pact is necessary.

Japan’s environmental organizations expressed concern about the country’s position. “Japanese people are proud of the Kyoto Protocol and the role we played in its creation, and we expect our government to be a climate leader,” said Mayuko Yanai of Friends of the Earth Japan. “That my government is now trying to destroy this treaty that bears a Japanese name is a disgrace.”

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

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