November 10, 2005
Japan Backs Climate Pacts, Struggles to Meet Targets
By Elaine Lies
TOKYO -- Foreign visitors to Japan last summer were surprised when their hosts, renowned for wearing suits no matter what, appeared at business meetings in short-sleeved shirts without jackets or ties.
The aim is to reduce energy use and boost Japan's lagging efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Officials say that despite such steps, Japan, host of the 1997 meeting that led to the Kyoto Protocol, is struggling to cut emissions, which have risen 8 percent since 1990 instead of dropping the pledged 6 percent.
Many in the world's second-largest economy also chafe at the tough targets their nation is bound to meet under Kyoto when the world's largest polluter, the United States, has rejected it and booming nations such as China and India have no obligations to cut emissions for the present.
It was partly from a latent sense of unfairness that Japan joined five other nations -- including China, India, and the United States -- to form a "Beyond Kyoto" pact that critics say could undermine existing treaties.
Tokyo still firmly backs Kyoto. It will press all nations to be bound by the pact's next framework aimed at fighting global warming when 150 countries meet in Montreal later this month to discuss taking the protocol beyond 2012, when phase one ends.
"We are part of Kyoto, so we have to obey it, at least until 2012 -- it's an international promise, after all," said Takashi Inoue, group manager at the Energy and Environment group at Keidanren, Japan's largest business lobby.
"After that, though, we can look at things a bit more freely, and we must create something that the United States, China and India can take part in, too," he added. "Without them, any efforts we make will be meaningless."
Others involved in Japan's climate change talks agreed, noting that rapid development in China and India over the coming years means they must be bound by any new framework.
MEANINGFUL, PRACTICAL, INCLUSIVE
Among the proposals Japan might push at Montreal is that any post-Kyoto pact must run over a longer time period, should set goals based on a variety of conditions and not just numbers, and must include periodic review and revision, if needed.
But Tokyo's top priority is getting more nations involved. This is why it joined the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, feeling that increasing the forums where global warming can be discussed is all to the good.
As with other participants, Japan maintains the new pact complements Kyoto instead of threatening it, as critics charge.
"This pact is unlikely to set goals and develop into a framework of its own," said a Foreign Ministry official.
"We need dialogue in the greatest number of places in order to get the largest number of ideas of how to proceed from here," he added.
Many see the six-nation pact mainly as a technology exchange, with advanced nations passing on expertise to energy-hungry developing countries -- and gaining business opportunities as they do so.
"Kyoto has forced us to work hard and develop new technology," Keidanren's Inoue said. "This will be an essential element of international competition, and a big plus for us."
WORK AT HOME
Japan, though, has plenty to focus on at home.
One of the least efficient sectors is private houses, where emissions have risen 28.8 percent from 1990 levels because of an increase in the number of appliances, such as computers.
As a result, campaigns such as "Cool Biz" and its winter equivalent "Warm Biz" -- when temperatures will be set at 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) in government offices, 20 elsewhere -- are widely welcomed for their ability to rally consumers.
Environmentalists welcome these efforts, but say the best method would be an environment tax of 2,400 yen per ton of carbon emitted from fossil fuels. The business lobby opposes the measure, which has already failed to pass parliament once.
Environment Minister Yuriko Koike told Reuters in a recent interview that the ministry hoped to promote such a tax.
"I think this is a good way to change Japan's thinking on energy," she said.
"The government isn't doing what it really should," said Masaaki Nakajima, at Greenpeace Japan. "Warm Biz and Cool Biz are good, of course, but there are many other really essential things they could be doing, like an environment tax."