The agreement reached at the Paris climate conference calls on the 196 participants to bear responsibility for cutting greenhouse gas emissions according to their ability. The accord replaces the Kyoto Protocol, under which only developed nations were committed to reducing the gases they emit. This represents a major advance in terms of effectiveness and fairness.
Unlike the Kyoto accord, the U.S. and China -- the world's two biggest emitters -- are party to the Paris agreement. Forged at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21, the pact includes a goal of restricting the rise in the average global temperature to less than 2 C, from the preindustrial average. It also urges nations to strive to hold the increase below 1.5 C. This, it is hoped, will prevent irreversible environmental damage, such as the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet.
Under the deal, the world will significantly restrict the use of fossil fuels. It will be vital to make steady efforts to realize a low-carbon society, in which emissions are limited by the efficient use of energy -- including that from renewable sources.
Reforms are already being initiated. The Indian government is promoting a "lighting revolution" by providing highly efficient light-emitting diode lamps to the public at low prices. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Paris that his government will also invest $1 trillion to expand solar power generation.
$90 TRILLION OPPORTUNITY The U.S. state of California aims to reduce average carbon emissions to 2 tons per capita by 2050. Today, California averages about 12 tons per capita, but the state reckons it can lower the number by pushing electric cars and other planet-friendly technology.
Allianz, a German insurance and asset management company, plans to withdraw funds from industries that consume large amounts of fossil fuels and allocate them to renewable energy and other green industries.
Investors and pension funds in Western countries see the Paris accord as an opportunity. Building a low-carbon society will entail replacing infrastructure -- including transportation and power supply networks -- with more energy-efficient technology. This will cost at least $90 trillion by 2030, according to one estimate.
However, the agreement's architects limited its binding force in order to ensure full participation. The deal requires member countries to set emissions reduction targets and take measures to achieve them, but there is no mechanism for enforcing compliance.
Furthermore, signatories can simply declare national targets for themselves. The measures presented so far would not be enough to achieve the 2 C goal.
The agreement does include a system under which countries will review their targets every five years and enhance their policies. Think of it this way: A global goal has been set by all participating countries, while the means of achieving it are up to individual nations. This framework could cause discord, should signatories try to foist responsibility on one another.
The success of the pact will depend on the emissions reduction efforts by the countries that produce the most warming gases. Current technology will not suffice -- further innovation will be needed. And countries should think of their task as changing the condition of the entire planet, not simply cleaning up their own backyards.
Western companies have been taking the initiative in charting a course for a low-carbon society, in cooperation with governments and nongovernmental organizations. They consider global warming a crisis -- and a chance to expand their businesses. There is much to learn from these companies.
Quick action is essential. The world has already seen unusual weather and sea level rises in many places. Poor people in developing countries are the ones who bear the brunt of these phenomena. Global warming will produce refugees and widen economic disparities. It will hinder growth and prosperity. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world cannot continue developing without addressing the climate problem. And it is a problem for all.
When the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, The Nikkei's editorial on the following day closed by stating, "Both the world and Japan should make the Kyoto conference a step toward a new era." The historic accord reached in Paris highlights the need for a stronger push toward that new age.