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16:58 20 November 2015

OPINION: Japan's historic opportunity in the inevitable shift to a low-emissions world

By Christiana Figueres
TOKYO, Nov. 20, Kyodo

In the first half of December, governments meet in Paris to reach a new climate change agreement that must keep the global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

The fact is that if humanity allows greenhouse gas emissions to warm up beyond that limit, people everywhere will suffer increasingly extreme and unmanageable climate impacts.

But the remarkable truth behind this scientific fact is that the necessary transformation to a clean and efficient global energy system will also deliver stronger economies, create safer, healthier societies and new, wealth-producing industries and jobs.

The benefits must accrue to all nations.

But any country which already commands significant wealth, technology, is experienced in international business and trade and needs new, non-fossil sources of energy cannot fail to recognize the huge advantage it can gain by being a leader in this transformation.

That is both Japan's challenge and opportunity at this historic turning point.

Ahead of Paris, governments, states, cities, business and investors across the world have come forward with the most comprehensive and unprecedented set of pledges and plans to take climate action.

Almost all countries, including Japan, have already submitted their contribution to the new climate change agreement in the form of national climate action plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to existing climate changes.

The sum total of this promised action would keep the world within affordable reach of staying below 2 degrees but there is no question that more is needed.

Everyone needs to raise their ambition to act faster over time to achieve a balance between human greenhouse gas emissions and the planet's ability to absorb them as soon as possible before the end of this century.

Paris's job is to capture this unprecedented but as yet inadequate global response in an international agreement that encourages all countries to cooperate in their own national interests to make a more rapid transition to a low-emission, resilient future.

Over the past five years, the avalanche of new actions, pledges, projects and initiatives from an ever growing and ever wider number of governments, cities, companies and citizens is making this transition irreversible.

Let me quote only a few examples in renewable energy:

-- India has set a target of 100 gigawatts (GW) solar energy by 2022 and 60 GW of wind -- by some estimates it could also generate over 1.1 million green jobs.

-- China aims to install 70 percent more solar power this year from last.

-- ASEAN member states - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam -- have a regional target to have 23 percent of their energy mix from renewables by 2020.

Financing for climate action is also growing fast, opening new opportunities to leverage private funding in profitable projects across the world. For example:

-- The European Investment Bank has announced that it would by 2020 aim to increase from 25 percent to 35 percent annual commitments for climate change.

-- The Asian Development Bank will double its annual climate financing to $6 billion by 2020.

-- The Inter-American Development Bank says it will increase the percentage of its funding that goes towards climate finance from the current 14 percent to between 25 and 30 percent over the next five years.

-- The World Bank's President Jim Yong Kim has announced that the Bank's climate financing could rise to 28 percent in 2020 -- a one third increase.

All these initiatives open new opportunities across business, investment and research and development for anyone with the vision and dynamism to take part.

Japan has proven it has the vision and dynamism to survive but also thrive after severe, systemic shock, from war to natural disasters to soaring oil prices to financial collapses.

A recent International Energy Agency report showed how the country's drive for energy efficiency has reduced emissions and consumers' energy bills and improved energy security and trade balances. Japan's investment in energy efficiency over the past 25 years saved $10 billion last year alone, cutting its trade deficit by 8 percent.

Paris must be a turning point which sends a loud and clear signal that the transformation of the global economy is inevitable, beneficial, and underway.

Japan sees itself also at a turning point, looking for a fresh direction in which to display the energy and invention which established it as one of the world's biggest economies. The stars are aligned for Japan. Climate action can be a major and profitable part of its future path.

(Christiana Figueres is Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change)

==Kyodo

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