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Emerging economies must accept environmental responsibilities
Publication Date : 25-06-2012
The summit ended as an illustration of how difficult it is for the international community to make truly concerted efforts to tackle global environmental problems.
The UN development summit to establish sustainable development goals, known as Rio+20, ended in Rio de Janeiro with the adoption of an agreement confirming the importance of making environmental protection consistent with economic growth.
The summit, held 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, was attended by heads of state and government officials of about 190 countries and territories, who discussed environmental protection measures for the next 10 years.
Yet it must be said that the summit produced extremely poor results.
The leaders failed to decide on a global schedule for shifting to a "green economy," the biggest focus of the summit, leaving each country to tackle environmental problems on its own.
Building a "green economy", which means shifting to a low-carbon society by reducing dependence on oil and other fossil fuels while at the same time fostering industries related to environmental protection, is a task the whole world faces.
An old divide between nations
At the summit, Japan and other industrialised countries asserted that all countries must aim at shifting toward a green economy. But developing countries opposed the idea, saying it would hinder their economic growth.
Thus the summit ended up achieving no progress on the confrontation between developed and developing economies.
Following the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, landmark accords such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have been concluded, with countries making efforts to pursue the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities".
The principle is based on the notion that, historically, global environmental degradation has mainly stemmed from the economic activities of the developed countries, making it necessary for the industrialised countries to assume heavier responsibilities for environmental problems.
This notion was later put into concrete form in the Kyoto Protocol based on the UN framework convention, under which only the developed countries are held responsible for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
China joins big-league emitters
Yet the global situation has changed greatly. Greenhouse gas emissions from such emerging economies as China and India, which have achieved rapid economic growth, continue to increase, with China surpassing the United States to become the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter.
Despite these facts, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao insisted during the latest summit talks on defining his country as a "large developing country", maintaining China's stance that the developed countries must assume responsibility for environmental problems.
It is obvious that to protect the global environment, such emerging economies as China have to assume their own responsibilities, commensurate to their economic scale.
At the summit, leaders agreed to reinforce the UN Environment Programme.
But more than the expansion of a UN organisation that is preoccupied with coordinating conflicting interests among member countries, what is needed is for developed countries to encourage newly emerging economies and developing countries to more actively tackle environmental problems.
Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba has made clear Japan's intention of extending financial assistance of US$6 billion dollars to developing countries over three years from fiscal 2013. It is also important for Japan to take the lead in offering technological assistance, such as energy-saving technologies, to developing countries.