Japan 2020 emission target a blow, say green groups

Japan on Wednesday unveiled plans for only marginally deeper greenhouse gas cuts over the coming decade than its current United Nations commitments, a step green groups say threatens to deal a blow to global climate talks.

The world’s fifth-biggest greenhouse gas emitter has been under huge pressure from developing nations to opt for deep 2020 greenhouse gas reductions to ensure a strong outcome from talks for a new global climate pact at the end of the year.

But Prime Minister Taro Aso, with an election due within months, had to balance fighting climate change with the needs of industry and voters amid the nation’s worst recession since World World II.

The 2020 target is equivalent to a cut of 8% below 1990 emission levels. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan has committed to cutting emissions by 6% for the 2008/12 period from 1990 levels but has struggled to meet that goal.

“It is an extremely ambitious target that aims to reach a 33% improvement in energy efficiency, more than the 30% rise in efficiency achieved during the oil crisis [in the 1970s],” Aso told a news conference on Wednesday.

Environmental groups though were unimpressed, saying the target would do little to stop steel and other manufacturing industries from reining in their planet-warming emissions from burning fossil fuels.

“Dangerous lack of ambition”
“Prime Minister Aso’s reported plan is appalling,” said Kim Carstensen, head of WWF’s Global Climate Initiative.

“We have waited a long time for Japan to finally inform the world about its emissions plans; and today we were presented something dangerously lacking any level of ambition.

“Aso’s decision, influenced by polluters rather than the public, makes reaching a good deal even harder.”

United Nations climate talks in December in the Danish capital Copenhagen aim to seal a broader climate pact to replace Kyoto from 2013. Japan’s choice on a target is seen as an important signal as to the level of ambition by rich nations to fight global warming.

The main opposition Democratic Party, which leads opinion polls, has said emissions cuts of 25% from 1990 would be desirable.

“It’s balanced in light of domestic and global considerations, and balanced in terms of Japan’s initial stance going into future negotiations in creating a post-Kyoto framework,” Satoshi Hashimoto, an analyst at Mitsubishi Research Institute said of the target.

“This commitment is not strong enough,” said Matthew Clarke, associate professor at the School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University in Melbourne.

“Countries such as Japan must be willing to commit to deeper cuts in emissions if they are to encourage developing countries such as India and China to also make cuts to their emissions.”

Zhang Haibin, an expert on environmental diplomacy at Peking University in Beijing, agreed.

“What Japan proposes is going to have a major impact, because it is one of the major developed countries. And China wants to see it set more ambitious goals than Kyoto if China is going to do more.”

Japan has been struggling to meet the Kyoto target as offices and households have increased emissions and power companies have failed to meet their pollution reduction goals, hurting its credibility in international negotiations.

Aso said the 2020 target was tougher than targets set by other rich nations.

The new goal excluded purchases of credits from abroad or from forest conservation to offset domestic emissions, although these could be included in future climate negotiations.

Instead, it is based on feasible policy incentives and restrictions to cut emissions in Japan by conserving energy in households, using more low-emission cars and equipment and enhancing renewable energy sources, in particular solar.

The European Union has promised to cut emissions 20% by 2020 from 1990 levels, equivalent to a 14% cut from 2005 levels, and by 30% if other rich nations follow suit.

In the United States, the only major developed nation outside Kyoto, a climate bill recently approved by a congressional panel aimed at a cut of 17% by 2020 from 2005 levels.—Reuters

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