Asahi Shinbun [February 3, 2009] "Sign the IRENA treaty on renewable energy"

February 3, 2009 12:00 AM

Asahi Shimbun [February 3, 2009]
"Sign the IRENA treaty on renewable energy"
Japan's government is supposed to be committed to supporting developing countries in the fight against global warming, and it is committed to using its technology and experience to push toward this goal.

At least, that is what former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said when he set out the agenda for the Cool Earth 50 program to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide by 50 percent by 2050. The Cool Earth program is still with us, but it looks like we have lost track of one of its key objectives.

On Jan. 26, more than 120 countries met in Bonn for the founding conference of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). IRENA's objective is promoting renewable energy worldwide.

To accomplish this goal, the agency plans to develop market structures for renewable energy, provide greater access to information about renewable energy and assist in the transfer of technology from industrialized to developing countries.

Of the countries that went to the Bonn conference, 75 signed up to the agency's founding charter. Japan was not among them. However, despite objections from within the bureaucracy, Prime Minister Taro Aso sent a number of observers from relevant ministries to the international meeting. It appears that the chance of Japan joining is not completely lost.

Why should Japan want to become a full-fledged member of IRENA?

The first and most simple reason is financial. The Cool Earth program is projected to cost about $10 billion (about 900 billion yen) over four years. In contrast, Japan's mandatory annual contribution to IRENA would be a mere $5 million.

The second reason is that IRENA's objectives are completely in line with those of the Cool Earth program. At the program's unveiling, then Prime Minister Abe spoke about the need for a new framework that moves beyond the Kyoto Protocol. For such a framework to be effective, it must be truly international in scope: on the size and scale of IRENA.

The Cool Earth program, as a Japanese-led initiative, is a step in the right direction. However, it alone cannot accomplish the scale of change that is needed. Further, the program's substantial focus on nuclear energy is not the solution for many of the world's least-developed nations.

Japan has some of the world's most advanced solar energy technology. We have a wealth of knowledge at our disposal, and we should not limit its dispersal by refusing to fully participate in IRENA.

A key activity in IRENA will be technology transfer. The Cool Earth program champions the transfer of technology from industrialized countries to developing countries--technology which these countries desperately need.

So why is our government not jumping to sign the founding treaty?

The problem is that Japan has an aversion to renewable energy. Less than 2 percent of our total energy generation comes from renewable sources and, compared with other industrialized nations, there are no plans for a significant increase to this.

Unfortunately for Japan, the global consensus, led by the United States, is changing in favor of renewable energy.

The new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama has promised to increase the amount of electricity produced from renewable sources to 25 percent by 2025, and to create 5 million "green collar" jobs. South Korea has pledged to invest $38 billion in green technology by 2013. Japan, too, plans to create one million green jobs. But we haven't joined IRENA.

We have the technology, even if we don't use very much of it ourselves. The government needs to wake up and realize the changes that are taking place in global energy policy, reinvest in solar technology and sign the IRENA founding treaty.