The 4th ICEF: New challenge of uncertainties

Posted by Nobuo Tanaka February 1, 2023 Chairman, The Sasakawa Peace Foundation

The uncertainty we are now facing is described as "huge-beyond-reason (ijigen-no fukakujitsusei)" by Dr. KUBO Fumiaki of the University of Tokyo. He means the impacts of what will be implemented as "America First" policies by the US President Donald Trump to the global community could be beyond imagination. New US policies, either domestic or foreign, do have much larger international implications than conventional wisdom tells us. Building the wall on the Mexican border shows symbolically the magnitude. Banning entries from some Muslim countries including Syrian refugees triggered global humanitarian concerns. Withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and imposing punitive tariffs on trade surplus countries regardless of WTO rules sound like denial of multilateralism and return to the age of trade wars.
As for the Global Climate Change mitigation, President Trump said in the Presidential campaign that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement of the COP21. It may take four years to withdraw officially from the accord but he may simply neglect the implementation. New EPA supposedly abolishes Clean Power Plan and encourages production of oil and gas by deregulating the rules of development and drilling. He also supports domestic coal production. These policies may discourage other Parties of the Paris Accord to pay due efforts to achieve their pledges of reducing CO2 emissions.
While trade front can be very stormy by emerging protectionism and isolationism, geopolitics in the Middle East causes another concern. He tries to suppress terrorism by the IS by the alliance with Russia, while he may destabilize the Middle East by reimposing nuclear sanctions on Iran. Iran is the key player to stabilize the region but its emergence as a key regional player worries Saudi Arabia. New Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson may intermediate two regional powers by his expertise and networks in energy sector. How does Israel respond? Together with the volatile oil prices, future of the Middle East is very uncertain.
On the other hand, though it may be wishful thinking, there is expectation that Mr. Trump will be very pragmatic as a business man. As he demands auto companies not to invest in Mexico by threat of imposing tariffs, he likes DEALs. This means case-by-case settlements happen and standards or rules or principles do not prevail. This may create another source of uncertainty.

I visited Washington twice in January: once for inauguration on 20th and another for GABI nuclear conference on 11th. The conference was gathered with nuclear experts from Japan, Korea and the US to discuss about how three countries work together for nuclear future. Mr. Trump talks very favorable to conventional fossil fuels but didn't say much on nuclear. Shale oil and gas offer strategic advantage to the US by reducing imports of oil and gas: energy independence is already at hand. But shale oil and gas last only for decades. Crisis in the Middle East impacts America through market price. Nuclear power is a long term insurance policy for energy security and emerging serious consequences of the global warming. The US already has very safe and sustainable advanced nuclear technology at Argonne National Lab. I presented the report by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, "Technical Feasibility of an Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) as a Future Option for Fast Reactor Cycles". Republicans are historically favorable to nuclear power. But "populism" may reflect simpler public views on safety of nuclear power or fear of nuclear weapon. Japan and the US will face the expiration of the bilateral Nuclear 123 agreement in 2018. There is uncertainty in extension of the Agreement.

The ICEF aims at Net Zero Emission through various innovations. Without certain and stable government policies as well as global commitments, private sector will not invest for the long term energy future. Let's think about an alternative future scenario. The state of California will continue its stringent environmental regulations regardless of federal rules. Auto industries may continue to abide by their tough standards for fuel efficiency. Democratic "Blue States" won't change their state rules for sustainability and American achievement of the Paris accord may not significantly be down graded. With lower carbon electricity from renewables and nuclear together with shale gas replacing coal, Electric vehicle may change the sustainability of urban lives everywhere. Chinese auto companies may invest in Detroit to produce EVs there creating more jobs. The US will eventually return to the COP21 Accord. Appointments to the relevant posts will take some time. But we will see more details in the US policies in the autumn and I hope that the new President will "Make America Great Again" by reducing uncertainties and returning to the multilateralism.

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David Cope 8.Professor, Clare Hall, University of Cambridge July 6, 2023 at 5:20 AM

I have just read this contribution from Tanaka-sensei. I find it a very wise and informed comment. If I can summarise, I think he is saying there are very strong economic forces - eventually coming back to consumer preferences - that are driving technological innovation. These are so strong that they will prevail over any short term political posturing. In fact, I am very sanguine about the US withdrawl from the Paris accord. I would go further and say that I have severe doubts about the overall value of these grand international accords. I had better say straight away that my comment does NOT apply to international agreements to collaborate on technological innovation - but those are very different from these ministerial "jamborees" - the participants of which often have little if any technological or economic knowledge. I was very pleased - and a little surprised that one of the plenary presentations at last year's ICEF forcefully made just the same point. That is why I strongly support the format and focus of ICEF - it brings together people with technological expertise at just the right level. I have attended all of the ICEF meetings and always try to select themes in the concurrent sessions on subjects on which I have no claim to be an expert - to inform myself. I have always found them to be hugely informative. So, I congratulate Tanaka-san and the ICEF team and look forward to another wonderful learning experience next October. Professor David Cope, University of Cambridge, UK/University of Tokyo/Doshisha University, Kyoto

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