Economy versus the Environment on Japan's Road to Copenhagen

Wednesday, 22. April 2009     2 comment(s)
Alexandru Luta
Researcher
International Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment research programme
That Japan is wildly off-target for the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period is no secret. The country was nearly 120 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, i.e. 13.7%, above its cap already in 2007. Nevertheless, one Japanese Prime Minister after the other talks big about Japanese climate leadership for the 21st century. It is puzzling to see that Tokyo’s figure for the crucial upcoming Copenhagen negotiations is, less than eight months before the meeting, still anybody’s guess due to wrangling between industry and climate advocates.

It is in this context that the first of a round of five public meetings organized by the Japanese government on the country’s mid-term commitments for greenhouse gas emissions cuts was held in Tokyo on Monday, April 20. The meetings function as public reviews on the six different suggestions outlined by a government study panel dealing with the problem of global warming. Based on their outcome, Prime Minister Aso will at some point during June of this year make Japan’s 2020 reduction target public.

As of late March, the six controversial targets are, relative to the 1990 base year specified in the Kyoto Protocol, (1) +4%, (2) +1% to -5%, (3) -7%, (4) -8% to -17%, (5) -15% and (6) -25%. When they originally came out in February, some of the targets were accompanied by studies highlighting the diminishing effect that efforts to achieve them would likely have on Japanese GDP.

Chairman Hiroshi Okuda (also chairman of the Toyota Motor Corporation) has remarked that his panel was roughly divided between the supporters of options (2) and (3) versus those in favour of (4) and (5). This is something unheard of in a country where proposals not enjoying the explicit support of all concerned parties are promptly dismissed without further review.

The result of the first public meeting was inconclusive. Speakers at the meeting included representatives from the Japan Business Federation Keidanren and from climate NGOs, who framed the discussion in starkly different terms – emphasizing negative economic consequences versus Japan’s shameful international image for sabotaging climate negotiations, respectively. The latter view has also been previously expressed by the Minister of Environment Tetsuo Saito, a member of junior coalition partner New Clean Government Party. Saito also recently dismissed a March advertisement by the Keidanren emphasizing the costs of emissions cuts as “sad”.

Newspapers report that at the end of the meeting the audience was evenly divided between supporters of option (1) and option (6), reflecting more extreme opinions than those of the panel experts. This reflects the documented inability of the Japanese public and authorities since the mid-1990s to strike a balance between the economy and the environment.

A preliminary evaluation suggests that dithering is likely to continue in the absence of a coordinated response between economic and environmental agencies (unlikely) or strong political pressure from outside (also slim prospects). Until mid-May four further meetings are to be held in Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sapporo. Watch this space for further developments as Japan hatches its Copenhagen targets.


Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

Discussion (2 comments)

28.6.2009, EPHRAIM MWEPYA SHITIMA
 

would apprectae a PDF copy of the paper, I work in a climate change Facilitation Unit in Zambia and this work would be helpful to my work.

10.8.2009, Alex Luta
 

You are welcome to contact me on my e-mail address (alexandru.luta@upi-fiia.fi) to specify in greater detail what your needs are.

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