Additional complexities for Japanese mid-term target

Monday, 18. May 2009     0 comment(s)
Alexandru Luta
International Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment research programme

Investing time into lengthy deliberations in order to construct a broad consensus is an inescapable step in Japanese decision-making. Yet it is also true that in the case of a deadlock concerned parties, rather than engaging in open confrontation, settle their differences in backstage negotiations. This is why the current public meetings on the country’s mid-term commitments for greenhouse gas emissions reductions are such an unusual phenomenon in Japanese domestic politics.

The Cabinet had announced that it would release its final position on Japan’s mid-term emission reduction targets for the Copenhagen climate negotiations based on the outcome of the five meetings organized throughout Japan, during which public support for each of the six options lying before the Prime Minister was supposed to be evaluated. Audiences however, consisting largely of climate NGOs and representatives of business interests instead of average citizens, predictably clashed over seemingly irreconcilable differences.

With the Bonn meeting prior to Copenhagen lying weeks away, this impasse is fast coming to a head. Citing “overbooking of previous events”, a new, sixth meeting was hastily organized in Tokyo. A nation-wide public survey on the matter is also underway – with results to be published at some point at the end of May. Meanwhile, the big players are sticking to their guns. The Japan Iron and Steel Association, a key member of the Japan Business Federation Nippon Keidanren, has on April 28 called all possible targets other than the least ambitious one (a 4% increase relative to 1990) “unrealistic”. Conversely, WWF Japan  is calling for 15 to 30% reductions.

The Japanese government finds itself in the unenviable position of having to lend its weight to a compromise unlikely to gain any backing from any of the stakeholders. Amid the fog of war, some support seems to be crystallizing around the figure of 7% reductions relative to 1990, which is what a study by the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry deems achievable in a scenario featuring maximum induction of best-available technologies. Japanese NGOs, though disappointed, believe the target to be realistic, should the government finally support more credible domestic policies and measures: a capped emissions trading system, absolute instead of intensity-based reduction targets for industries, housing insulation, etc.

-7%, it should be noted, represents what the government believes to be Japan’s maximum achievable domestic emission cuts from sectors other than forest sinks, and thus also excludes the Kyoto mechanisms. While discussions about the latter may influence the final number during the Copenhagen meeting itself, outside negotiators should interpret this figure as a sign from Japanese industries re-enforcing their dissatisfaction with the perceived unfairness of the current Japanese target under the Kyoto Protocol.

Even though it may come as a disappointment to those hoping for a more substantial Japanese commitment, one should consider oneself lucky if even this figure holds. Given startlingly low approval rates, it remains to be seen if Prime Minister Aso has enough political clout left to force this target down the collective throats of Japan’s industries. While the opposition party, who had introduced a tough climate bill to the Diet in late April, reels from a debilitating corruption scandal that question its prospects for the upcoming September elections, raising approval for this target rests solely on Aso’s shoulders.

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