British Ambassador: Time to Act on Climate Change

Climate change has implications for human health, agriculture and economies, as well as for politics and security, writes Graham Fry, the British Ambassador to Japan.

Published: 27-Dec-2006

Thanks to Cool Biz and the like, awareness of global warming is high among Japanese people. According to a recent opinion poll, 66 percent are greatly concerned about it. But there is little sense of crisis.

It is true that the biggest effects of climate change are long-term. The greenhouse gases that are emitted now will stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and their effects will be long-lasting. However, the average temperature of the earth has already risen by 0.7 C, and we can already see the effects. If we continue as we are, by 2050, the probability of dangerous climate change (a temperature change of 2 C to 5 C) is over 90 percent. This would have implications for human health, agriculture and economies, as well as for politics and security. For example, we can expect more floods and desertification, an increase in tropical diseases such as malaria, and the need to construct new coastal defenses to protect cities such as London and Tokyo against rising sea levels.

We can prevent this. But only if we take determined action in the next 10 to 15 years. According to a recent report to the British government, if we invest 1 percent of our gross domestic product now, we can avoid damage of between 5 and 20 percent to world GDP in the future. This will require the development of new technologies. Governments and the private sector should work together to promote research and development in promising areas, such as carbon capture and storage and fuel cells.

As well as developing new technologies, it is necessary to ensure that existing technology is more widely used. That means creating an economic system whereby reducing emissions is rewarded and raising them carries a penalty--in other words, a price for carbon. This can be achieved through taxation, emissions trading or regulation. It makes an international trade in carbon possible, thus generating finance for the transfer of clean technology to the developing world. Between today and 2030, over 20 trillion dollars will be spent on new energy infrastructure, much of it in emerging economies. The nature of this investment will determine the world's emissions for decades to come.

We should also recall that 18 percent of the world's emissions arise from deforestation. Policies are therefore urgently required to protect existing forests and regenerate those that have been lost.

At present, both global warming and the emission of greenhouse gases are proceeding faster than predicted. In Australia, Europe, the United States and many other countries, climate change has become one of the main issues of political debate. In Europe, a carbon market is already functioning, following the introduction of emissions trading in 2005. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently announced a plan to cap emissions and introduce an emissions trading system. In November, Australian Prime Minister John Howard proposed the establishment of a task force to consider a national emissions trading system.

Japan, needless to say, is at the forefront of both international negotiations and technological development. It leads the world in energy efficient technologies and hybrid vehicles. At the 2005 G-8 summit (under Britain's presidency), Japan agreed to receive a report on climate change under its own presidency of the Group of Eight major nations in 2008.

In addition to the efforts of government, there is a great deal that we as individuals can achieve--by acting on initiatives such as Cool Biz, choosing energy efficient appliances and being conscious of the way in which we use energy.

We cannot wait any longer. The time for action is now. Fry is the British ambassador to Japan.

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