The Yomiuri Shimbun July 4, 2013
Will shale gas revolution help combat global warming?
U.S. President Barack Obama has announced an action plan to increase efforts to combat global warming.
The sweeping plan is aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, while also leading greater international efforts to combat climate change, particularly through cooperation with China and India, both major carbon dioxide emitters.
The world is witnessing a continuous increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Obama’s plan indicates the United States, the world’s second-worst greenhouse gas polluter after China, plans to seriously tackle global warming. This should significantly help international efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
However, Obama will be tested whether he will be able to demonstrate leadership in fighting global warming and what he can actually do to achieve his goal.
U.S. plan affirms target
The latest action plan reconfirms an earlier U.S. target for curtailing domestic greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent by the end of 2020, compared with 2005 levels. Measures include a plan to impose new and more rigorous emission regulations on existing and envisaged power plants.
The action program also calls for switching to natural gases, an energy source that generates a smaller amount of carbon dioxide than coal and oil.
Obama’s plan incorporates the doubling of such renewable energy resources as hydroelectric and solar power. It also includes a plan to maintain and promote nuclear power generation through, for example, the development of small modular reactors with a generating capacity of less than 300,000 kilowatts per unit.
The outlook for Obama’s action plan is far from promising. In fact, U.S. electric power companies are already alarmed by the possible impact of his program. They fear that tightening the regulations may force them to close coal-fired power plants, which constitute the mainstay of their electricity business. The action plan is also opposed by Republicans and local governments that could be affected by the planned measures. They are concerned that the program would lead to a loss of many jobs. Many twists and turns are foreseen in a tug-of-war over how carbon dioxide emissions should be regulated at power plants.
A factor behind Obama’s decision to announce new anti-global warming measures is his desire to address the strong concerns of Americans about the increase in natural disasters due to abnormal weather in recent years, including violent storms and massive tornadoes. The action plan lays out specific measures to be implemented to enable local communities to deal more effectively with the impact of such disasters.
Another significant reason behind the president’s latest move is the fact that the recent increase in natural gas production due to the ongoing shale gas revolution is aiding his battle to reduce greenhouse gases. The U.S. carbon dioxide reduction goal seems to be increasingly realistic due to that country’s drive to shift from coal to natural gas. This is certain to shore up the U.S. position in global negotiations over reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
The post-Kyoto Protocol framework is scheduled to take effect in 2020. The primary task facing participants is to ensure that their battle against global warming functions in a manner in which all major carbon dioxide emitters fulfill their share of responsibility in achieving their goals.
Japan role important
The Obama administration will likely seek to lay down a set of loosely defined rules by which each country will set its own reduction target and strive to curtail its carbon dioxide emissions, according to observers. This approach can be regarded as a persuasive method to get newly emerging nations to join the new framework, as they are opposed to reduction obligations that would be imposed on them.
Japan should play an active role in this respect.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has said it will scrap an unrealistic carbon dioxide reduction target abruptly announced by then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in 2009. Hatoyama’s plan required this country to achieve a 25 percent reduction from 1990 levels in carbon dioxide emissions by the end of 2020.
It is essential for the Abe administration to replace the 2009 reduction plan with a practical reduction target that would take the nation’s economic activities into consideration, a task that must be complemented by efforts to gain support from other nations for the prime minister’s initiative.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 3, 2013)