Leadership on the Environment

US-Japan cooperation can carry on the legacy of the UN Conference on the Environment and Development

WHEN President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa met earlier this month, they agreed to cooperate on helping the former Soviet republics make the transition to democracy and a market economy, controlling nuclear proliferation in North Korea, and ensuring peace in Cambodia. Apparently, they missed the opportunity to take leadership on the global threats of environmental degradation and absolute poverty.

Have the world's two largest aid donors already forgotten the message of the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) that ended less than five weeks ago in Rio?

At the Earth Summit, over 150 nations tackled the challenges of addressing poverty and local environmental deterioration as well as worldwide environmental threats such as ozone depletion and global warming. All countries acknowledged these problems can be attacked only through international cooperation, with each nation making the difficult commitments necessary to protect the world's environment. The United States and Japan are natural partners to lead this effort.

Both leaders know this. In his speech at UNCED, Mr. Miyazawa called for an "era of global citizenry," in which the well-being of each and every person is valued and for which both environmental protection and sustainable development must be achieved simultaneously. Mr. Bush, for his part, continues to maintain that he is an environmental president (but has yet to prove it).

Bush and Miyazawa already have laid the groundwork for expanded bilateral cooperation on global issues. Although it was overshadowed by the imbroglio over auto trade (and Bush's unfortunate illness), the two leaders agreed on a little-publicized "US-Japanese Global Partnership Plan of Action" when they met last January. Both countries can build upon that Action Plan, particularly on the sections dealing with development and the environment. Two new ideas for future cooperation are worth considering: A US -Japan-funded grass-roots foundation and a network of international centers for research and training for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

1. A US-Japan-funded grass-roots foundation, designed to support projects linking poverty and the environment in the developing world, has been endorsed by a distinguished panel of US and Japanese leaders.

The foundation would not be an operating agency but would provide funding on a competitive basis for programs implemented by international organizations as well as US, Japanese, and developing country nongovernmental organizations and private firms. The foundation's governing board would be composed of members from the US, Japan, and developing countries.

2. A network of international centers would promote research and training for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies most appropriate to conditions in the developing world. Developing nations are projected to account for as much as 44 percent of global energy sector carbon dioxide emissions by 2025, compared to 26 percent in 1985.

Collaborative endeavors to head off this expected increase could include development assistance agencies, developing country governments, research organizations, private industries, and public utilities from developing and industrial nations. The centers, located throughout the developing world, would be governed by representatives from the US, Japan, and developing countries.

Bush and Miyazawa may have missed one opportunity already, but the timing is still right for expanding US-Japan cooperation and placing relations between the two nations on a new track. Their joint reaffirmation of "global partnership" earlier this month has cleared the way for increased collaboration.

Making progress on the environment would benefit both leaders. Bush could recoup from his maladroit performance in Rio and finally put some flesh on the bones of his "new world order." Miyazawa could build on his victory in obtaining legislative approval for Japanese participation in peacekeeping operations and further demonstrate his willingness for Japan to play a broader global role beyond checkbook diplomacy.

By concentrating on a carefully chosen group of sustainable development challenges, the US and Japan can help determine the global agenda for other donors and for developing countries themselves. If Bush and Miyazawa could agree on these two initiatives, they could leap ahead of the pack and set the pace for applying the lessons learned at UNCED.

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