1. New emission reduction goal should speed up energy-saving measures
In its editorial on July 19, 2015, The Yomiuri Shimbun calls on Japan to play a leading international role in cutting carbon emissions
It will not be easy to achieve the new reduction target for greenhouse gases adopted by the government, though it was made with an emphasis on its feasibility. To accomplish the target, both the public and private sectors will be required to work together for energy saving.
The government officially decided and submitted to the United Nations an emissions-reduction target for greenhouse gases to reduce them by 26 per cent by fiscal 2030 in comparison to fiscal 2013 emissions.
The target was made based on Japan's estimated composition of power sources in 2030.
According to that estimate, Japan will use less thermal power generation that depends on imported fuel and continue nuclear power generation. The ratio of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power will be increased, too. Under such an energy policy, the highest reduction rate possible was calculated.
Use of nuclear power generation, which does not emit carbon dioxide (CO2), has a very significant meaning as a measure against global warming. Reduction of power generation costs and other issues will pose challenges in generating electricity with renewable energy.
Greenhouse gas emissions have sharply increased from business facilities such as department stores, supermarkets and office buildings. According to the new target, their emissions will be cut by 40 per cent. To achieve it, energy-saving lighting equipment and office machines must be introduced.
Currently, member countries are working on their own reduction targets toward the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) to be held in Paris at the end of this year.
Some of the members - including the United States, China and the European Union - have already submitted their targets to the United Nations.
If an agreement is made at COP21 on a new framework of measures against global warming from 2020, the members will start working to achieve the goals they have presented.
It will be significant in the new framework to impose obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on every signatory, learning a lesson from the mistake of the Kyoto Protocol that imposed such obligations only on developed countries.
We expect Japan to play a leading role in making an equal and fair framework since it has presented a reduction target that stands up to those submitted by the United States and Europe.
Also, a mechanism should be built in the framework to make signatories observe their own goals. Only laying out goals will not stop the progression of global warming.
On the other hand, rigidly obliging the parties to achieve the targets, there would then arise the danger of repeating the failure of the Kyoto Protocol, which was hamstrung because of the non-participation of the United States.
From the standpoint of how to accomplish the aim of slashing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions globally, a framework having actual effectiveness must be formulated.
What should be done is, for one thing, to oblige each country to report on the progress of its emission reduction measures at regular intervals.
It will also be necessary to make signatories check the emission reduction efforts with each other, while prodding each other to raise the targets if possible. In addition, a ban should be placed on all signatories from allowing their respective targets to be lowered.
China, which has been under no obligation to cut back emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for one-fourth of the world's total. How Beijing addresses the challenge of cutting back on emissions is a key to whether the emission reduction efforts of the world can prove successful.
Japan, in cooperation with the United States, European countries and others, must urge China to proactively make endeavors for reducing its emissions.
2. The implications of Japan's security legislation
In its editorial on July 19, 2015, the Korea Herald notes that the move carries complicated implications for Seoul
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stayed firm on his path toward enacting controversial security bills by September despite surging parliamentary and public opposition.
His Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner in the ruling coalition, the New Komeito Party, unilaterally passed the bills in the lower house of the Diet on Thursday. They require approval by the upper chamber to become law.
The security legislation centers on allowing Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense, which empowers it to fight alongside its allies even when not under attack itself.
Abe, a staunch nationalist, has pressed ahead with what he calls a normalization of Japan's military posture. But his determined push for the unpopular bills is coming at a political cost.
Abe's support rate has dropped to 39 per cent, lower than his 42 per cent disapproval rating, according to a poll by a leading Japanese newspaper early last week.
The shift in military policy was backed by only 26 per cent of respondents, while 56 per cent objected to it.
Tens of thousands of people held a rally in Tokyo to protest the passage of the security bills, which nearly 90 per cent of Japan's constitutional experts argue contradict the country's pacifist constitution.
Abe's declining popularity is reminiscent of the political course taken by his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, whose support for a security treaty with the US resulted in his resignation as prime minister in the face of a strong backlash in 1960.
Abe invoked the case of his grandfather early this month, when he said his push to bolster Japan's military role would be vindicated by history. He noted that a majority of the public now supported the renewal of the US-Japan security treaty.
Historical judgment will have to wait for the passage of time. In contrast to his grandfather, however, Abe is unlikely to be forced to step down.
Japan's neighbouring countries need to brace for the prospect of Abe being reelected as LDP leader, hence retaining the premiership, in a party conference in September, with the security bills being enacted into law.
In a statement issued Thursday, South Korea reaffirmed it would not tolerate Japanese military activities on the Korean Peninsula without its prior consent.
In the months ahead, Seoul needs to hold close consultations with Tokyo to ensure its consent should also precede Japan's military operations against North Korea.
Seoul is now required to take a sophisticated strategic approach to Japan's security legislation.
Despite the memory of Japan's past militarism that colonised the peninsula in the early 20th century, Abe's move to expand Tokyo's military role in the framework of its alliance with Washington will help deter provocations from North Korea.
On the other hand, it may heighten caution from China against South Korea's closer linkage to the strengthened US-Japan alliance, which Beijing sees is aimed at keeping its growing power in check.
Under these circumstances, Seoul officials may find room for inducing China to be more active in curbing Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.
New mindset required to end tour guides problem
3. Can foreigners make good tourist guides?
In its editorial on July 19, 2015, The Nation calls on the country to agree to using regional guides to overcome problems plaguing the tourist sector
Trouble is slowly brewing in the tourism industry as licensed guides take to the streets in Pattaya to protest against unlicensed foreigners allegedly taking away their jobs.
Over 100 Thai guides who work in Pattaya staged an angry protest in front of Pattaya police station this past week to call on authorities to do more to crack down against illegal foreign tour guides who work in the seaside resort town.
Some harsh words were ditched out at a Chinese man who the protesters believed was an illegal tour guide. The man was leading a group of Chinese visitors and accidentally came across the noisy protesters.
To get around this problem, there have been suggestions that foreign tour guides be permitted to work legally as "Tour Coordinators", alongside Thai tour guides.
The occupation of tour guides in Thailand is protected by law, which basically says one has to be a licensed Thai national to do the job. Many interpret this to mean that Thailand does not allow foreign guides to work in the country, not even accompanying a group of foreign visitors. In other words, foreign visitors travelling in groups and in need of a guide must hire Thai nationals to show them around.
The longstanding argument is that foreign guides might not know about Thailand, especially areas of cultural sensitivity, compared to local tour guides.
But this often comes across as a convenient excuse, according to people in the tourism industry, because Thai tour guides are notorious for skimming or getting a percentage of whatever visitors spend at certain outlets - much more than cultural issues.
So it's safe to assume that the uproar in Pattaya is probably more about personal and selfish reasons rather than protecting Thailand's cultural heritage.
While Thai tour guides like to cling to nationalism and cultural preservation amid a need to protect such jobs for locals, their track record suggests that getting kickbacks from local business outlets like hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, jewellery shops, etc, is really a key priority for them.
In other words, this is an issue of business ethics that the industry will have to address head on if the tourism industry is move forward to better quality and service.
Moreover, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that commissions or a percentage going to tour guides from business outlets come from a shop owners' pocket. At the end of the day, this is money that visitors could have saved but didn't because of our culture of under-the-table deals.
Perhaps we should rethink the whole thing and look at it from a regional point of view - making it an Asean initiative, might require tour operators and guides to 'think globally and act regionally'.
In other words, liberalise the industry at the regional level so that guides from Asean member countries can all function as one entity. Border crossing would be less significant as strategy and destination would not be confined to any particular nation but pockets in Southeast Asia instead. This would be in line with the Asean Economic Community that many of us like to hype about but say little about what this means in real terms.
Taking this route would require Thai tour operators to broaden their scope, and enhance their capacity.
It would also require Thai guides to have a better understanding of our neighbouring countries, languages and ways of doing businesses. Ever wondered why so many Burmese, Cambodian and Vietnamese working in Thailand speak excellent Thai?
Generally speaking, people who can afford to pay more will do so if the service is worth the money. But, universally, what people don't like is being ripped off. If the government is serious about obtaining a better understanding about this phenomenon, perhaps they should take a survey of foreign and local visitors at places like Phuket and ask about their cab or tuk-tuk fare.
The short-sighted nature of our industry encourages the people in tourism businesses to suck as much as we can from these visitors because we don't know what tomorrow will hold.
But it doesn't have to be that way if all of us work hard to end scams and put the con artists out of businesses and focus on a long-term strategy that's sustainable and gives a sense of fair play to all sides.