Photo/IllutrationEnvironment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, center, and his South Korean and Chinese counterparts Cho Myung-rae, left, and Li Ganjie hold a joint statement concluded at the Tripartite Environment Ministers Meeting in Kita-Kyushu on Nov. 24. (Ichiro Matsuo)

Japan, China and South Korea recently pledged to upgrade their joint efforts to tackle environmental challenges that know no national borders.

The top environment officials of the three countries reaffirmed their governments’ commitment to expanding and enhancing their three-way cooperation in the policy area in this year’s Tripartite Environment Ministers Meeting (TEMM21), the 21st annual conference, held in Kita-Kyushu.

The three countries all occupy an important position in Asia. They have a history of taking various measures to deal with the environmental damage caused by their economic expansion over the years even though their policy efforts have been different in details, duration and scope.

The TEMM can serve as an effective platform for the three nations to fulfill their collective responsibility to lead the region’s bid to build a greener future for itself.

Despite occasional bouts of heightened tension between them over historical and territorial issues, the three nations have been holding annual meetings of their environment ministers without disruption since 1999, when the TEMM1 was held in Seoul.

Making progress in dealing with often complicated environmental problems requires tenacious policy efforts, a fact which gives special importance to this framework of trilateral annual meetings of environment ministers. The three countries should continue this undertaking for many more years to come.

But the meeting should, of course, be more than a mere ritual for the officials to get together. They need to ensure that the three governments share common views about key environment issues, map out plans to solve them and work together to carry out the plans.

Common environmental challenges confronting the three countries include the spread of red fire ants, a venomous invasive species of ant, and health hazards posed by small, breathable particulate matter known as PM2.5. Based on discussions at TEMMs, Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul have shared information about the current situations concerning these problems and possible measures to cope with them while promoting joint research involving experts.

The three countries now need to translate these efforts into clearly tangible improvements.

The latest TEMM decided on priority issues for a new joint action plan for the five years starting in 2020. In addition to regional challenges including worsening air pollution, the list also includes global problems such as harmful climate change and plastic pollution in oceans.

The ministers also vowed to expand the actions taken under the TEMM initiative into efforts under other frameworks, such as the Group of 20, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

As for global warming, the Paris climate agreement is set to take effect in 2020. In this year’s G-20 summit, held in June in Osaka, the leaders of the 20 major countries agreed to pursue a goal of reducing additional marine plastic waste to zero by 2050 under Japan’s initiative.

This era of great changes in international society makes it all the more important for Japan, China and South Korea to work closely together to tackle environmental challenges and demonstrate their collective will to help carve out a cleaner future for the planet.

China’s role is especially important, as it is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and single-use plastic waste.

China will also host the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held next year.

The future health of the Earth will depend, to a great extent, on whether this global power becomes serious about dealing with environmental problems.

In addition to taking domestic steps of its own, Japan also needs to play a role in ensuring Beijing’s commitment to working for the cause by capitalizing on the working relationship that has been developed through TEMM talks.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 28