Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Toyako Summit put off acting to avert the crisis for mankind
ONO Goro / Professor Emeritus, Saitama University

July 25, 2008
At the Toyako G8 Summit, where the focus was on the control of greenhouse gas emissions, there was reportedly agreement reached on the thorny point of numerical targets, which the United States had thus far strongly resisted. The G8 countries shared "the vision of… the goal of achieving at least 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050" and recognized the need for "mid-term goals and national plans to achieve them". The 16 major emitting countries also shared "a vision for a long-term global goal for emission reductions", while the developing major economies pledged to implement certain actions. Politically, this was considered to be a success of sorts. 

However, looking at it from the most fundamental perspective of the future of mankind, how much sense is there in talking about "political success or failure" or whether the insistence of a certain country carried the day or not? The agreement at Toyako is totally devoid of concrete and immediate effect because of the conflict between the developed countries that are intent on protecting their vested rights and the developing countries that keep on claiming the right to growth, which would enable them to reach the level of the developed countries.

When the survival or extinction of mankind is at stake, it is only natural to start by discarding all preconceptions. This would require a fundamental reappraisal of all vested rights. If you were looking down on the Earth from Heaven, it would be clear that no one is endowed with vested rights. In that sense, it is first the developed countries that should change their attitude and make the maximum possible efforts.

Emission trading is considered to be the trump card for curbing CO2 emissions. But, by presupposing the existence of vested rights, it misconstrues the core of the problem. Everyone without exception is obligated to curb emissions, and there can be no such thing as the right to emit. Thus, while there may well be a surcharge for the purpose of curbing emissions, the idea of making economic gains out of curbing emissions cannot possibly be condoned.

The denial of vested rights to the developed countries in no way means that the claim of the developing countries is justified, for the abolition of vested rights would negate the notion of "equality with the developed countries" that they have been demanding. At the same time, the developing countries need to overcome their "victim complex". Future generations would regard every single human being enjoying the benefits of a highly materialistic civilization in the present age as responsible, albeit in varying degrees, for the environmental havoc wreaked on posterity, but never as a victim.

Thus vested rights would be denied not just to every country or business, but also to every single individual. The brutal truth is that there is no chance that a wishy-washy solution would work, such as not lowering the standard of material living and, at the same time, sustaining economic growth. Every person, every industry and every nation must make the maximum efforts. There can be no fighting over one's selfish interests and laying the blame on others. That would make everyone a loser. Everyone has to engage in humble self-reflection and act.

At any rate, it is too late to start acting now. Had we still lived in 1972, when the Club of Rome published its seminal report "Limits to Growth" on the crisis facing mankind, we might have found a solution which would recognize, to some extent, the developed countries' vested rights and allow the developing countries to catch up. If it had been in 1990 when this writer was sounding the alarm in advancing my ecological doctrine ("Seitaishugi"), there could have been a combination, somewhat close to the position currently taken by the developed countries, of "60% reduction of emissions by developed countries", "maintaining the status quo for newly industrializing countries" and "allowing increased emissions by developing countries"

Today, after a third of a century of inaction since "Limits to Growth", the only possible solution is the combination of "large scale (80~90%) reduction of emissions by developed countries", "reduction by half of emissions by newly industrializing countries", "as much reduction as possible by developing countries" and "allowing increased emissions only for some least developed countries". Given the accelerating increase of emissions, there would be no future for mankind unless we started acting right away. Seen in this light, the proposals at Toyako are much too abstract, and are seriously guilty of putting off the challenge yet again, while the debates have been all but exhausted.

It borders on the absurd to see that conflicting views are being put forward, not only between the developed and developing countries, but also among the developed countries, and even within each developed country, each claiming to have its scientific justification. Scientific reasoning is not something that leads to different conclusions depending on the position taken or the values espoused. The fact that the conclusions vary means that the science used is nothing more than pseudo-science.

The only thing that can be stated scientifically is that the vast consumption of resources and energy to sustain today's civilization has resulted in the enormous increase in entropy far in excess of the capacity of the ecosystem to deal with. Seen in this light, it should be understood that the "curbing and control of emissions" mentioned above refers not only to greenhouse gases such as CO2 but also to the reduction of the use of all resources and energy, which would even lead to more drastic measures to control population.

Repeating haphazard attempts to patch over problems as they arise does not lead us anywhere, as has been the case with curtailing the use of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) in the face of the ozone hole, curbing CO2 emissions to counter global warming and restricting the use of food-related bio-energy as food prices skyrocket,. Even technological innovation, which, in the hope of many, would provide the way-out, is totally impotent in the light of the scientific law of increase in entropy. We no longer have the luxury of debating whether we "can" or "cannot". We must simply "act".

It would be utter folly to try to manage the issues of global environment, which is governed by the laws of science, through the tool of economic values, which dominate today's human society. To do so would only endanger the survival of human society, which creates the economic values. As the tale of King Midas in Greek mythology tells us, economic values are, after all, nothing more than a fiction. It is dumbfounding that there are even those who argue against curbing speculation in the market, which impacts us more directly than the curbing of greenhouse gas emissions.

Overcoming the difficult challenges ahead of us entails changing our values and every single one of us exerting his best efforts. To this end, urgent efforts for enlightenment are called for. There is very little time left. Despite all this, at the recent G8 Summit, the leaders who should be in a position to enlighten their peoples have shown themselves to be lacking this sense of urgency. This casts a dark cloud over the future of humankind.

The writer is Professor Emeritus at Saitama University
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小野五郎 / 埼玉大学名誉教授

2008年 7月 25日






いずれにしても、今となってはあまりに遅すぎる。ローマクラブが『人類の危機 成長の限界』レポートを発表した1972年時点であれば、先進国の既得権をある程度認め、途上国によるそのキャッチアップをも認める形での解が存在しえた。また、筆者が『生態主義』で指摘した1990年時点であれば、途上国側の主張に近い「先進国における排出6割減」「中進国における現状維持」「途上国における排出増加の容認」という組合せ解がありえた。







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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Toyako Summit put off acting to avert the crisis for mankind