Kyoto is famous in Japan for many things, in the past for classic temples like Kinkakuji and Kiyomizu-dera and for being the capital of Japan from 794 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. It is well-known more recently for things such as the Kyoto Protocol and Kyoto University. This week, Kyoto University became the first University in Japan to introduce a so-called “University Environment Tax”, sort of an emissions tax to attempt to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases within the University.
The idea is that the amount of energy used by each department is calculated and taxed at a flat rate by the University. The gathered taxes are then reinvested back into the University’s environmental efforts. On top of being taxed, those departments, offices or labs whose usage is above the average will be required to establish some form of system of method to decrease their output. On top of this, they are planning to create an inter-University market for the trading of “carbon credits”. This means that for example if one department is putting out extremely low emissions, they can trade their remaining capacity to a more heavy usage department, maximizing the use of the quotas, and creating new income for the more efficient department.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan is required to reduce its CO2 emissions by 6% by 2012, and the Government has been active in offering up ideas of how this could be realized. One of these includes a national Environment Tax, of which various proposals have been submitted to the Environment Ministry with limited success. This new University Tax by Kyoto University represents a miniature version of that proposed inside the Government. The Kyoto Protocol seems to be a positive initiative against climate change, and indeed since it first came into effect in 1990, Japan has reduced its emissions by 3.5%. Japan is of course one of the majority of developed countries that have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, the only backwards countries that refuse to ratify, are the red ones below (USA and Australia):
I was lucky enough to be able to attend Kyoto University for a couple of years, and from my recollection, they may have some difficulties in cutting their energy costs. Coming from a modern Western University, I was shocked at the lecture halls, which were spartan concrete buildings, with 100 year old wooden benches. The wind and noise would seep in from the outside, and at times it was difficult to tell whether you were actually inside a hall or outside in the elements. These lecture halls were very modest compared to the plush carpeted lecture halls back home, or for that matter the private Universities up the road.
The obvious answer would be to renovate these halls, and surely they would be able to cut down on heating and cooling costs in Japan’s more extreme seasons? Well no, there were no heaters or air conditioners in any of the lecture halls. My most vivid memory of this time was cycling into exams in February through the snow, wrapped up in layers upon layers of sweaters and coats, with gloves, scarf, beanie etc. And sitting down to sit final exams, not being able to take any off as it was so cold! It was as if we were taking exams outside, my fingers were completely frozen. Mid-terms in August/September were just as bad, 35+ degrees, and no air conditioner. It may have been a pleasant place to take an exam, if I wasn’t dripping sweat all over the table and exam paper, and taking 2 liters of Pocari Sweat to each exam! I remember thinking how could they possibly decide to have exams right in the middle of summer and winter, as opposed to the wonderful seasons of spring and autumn. And also, with Kyoto University being the largest recipient of research funds of any University in Japan, why don’t they buy some air conditioners!
I am very much in favour of Kyoto University supporting the local efforts of the Kyoto Protocol. It will no doubt stimulate good debate and new research in both the environmental and economic departments. However if the current students are anything like me, perhaps the first this they will want to do will be to allocate some of that University Environment Tax to improving the environment of the students, by adding a couple of air conditioners?