Japanese Opinion Poll Supports 7% Emission Cuts

Tuesday, 26. May 2009     0 comment(s)
Alexandru Luta
International Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment research programme

The results of a public opinion poll organized by the Japanese Cabinet to evaluate the level of popular support for the various mid-term greenhouse gas reduction targets lying before the Prime Minister have shown on Friday that 45.4% of Japanese support a 7% cut in emissions relative to 1990 levels.

Support for a 4% increase in emissions, a position enjoying the strong backing of the conservative Japanese Business Federation (Keidanren), lies at 15.3%. Further 13.5% favour a 15% cut. Finally, the 25% reduction target, similar in spirit with the EU’s 20% reduction target and enjoying the backing of domestic environmental NGOs, received a 4.9% level of support among respondents. The rest were undecided.

Prior to this poll, public hearings had been organized during late April and early May in major population centres. Attended mainly by representatives of businesses and environment NGOs, they resulted in polarized outcomes, with over 70% supporting the most lenient +4% target and over 20% supporting the most stringent -25% target. This public opinion poll targeted for the first time the Japanese public at large, instead of specific stakeholders.

Following a discussion of the opinion poll, Japanese Minister of the Environment Tetsuo Saitō (Clean Government Party/ Kōmeitō) chose to remind his colleagues in an interview after the Cabinet meeting yesterday that “-15% and -25% are among our options, as well” (Mainichi – Japanese only). This represents a break with the minister’s usual silent stance and demonstrates for the first time any of his personal opinions on any of the possible targets.

Saitō, in an exclusive interview (Asahi – Japanese only), further states today that he hoped to inspire a lively debate both inside and outside the government. Pointing out that the above targets refer purely to domestic reductions, and therefore exclude emissions trading and carbon sinks, he further adds that Japan was obligated to impress upon the world its intention to contribute pro-actively in the fight against global warming by proclaiming a 15-25% reduction target during international negotiations. He deems the -15% target as “achievable”, should solar energy and eco-cars be introduced.

Conversely, Keidanren continues to characterize the Kyoto Protocol as a “diplomatic failure”. In response to criticism by the Ministry of Environment, the federation recently voiced the aspersion that “the function of those in the administration is to advocate the national interest in order to prevent the excessive burdening of the population” (Mainichi – Japanese only).

Domestic news channels point out that a 7% cut in emissions is estimated to cost Japan twice as much as what the EU is likely to incur in order to achieve its 20% cut in emissions. Critics further point out that, even if the EU and US achieved 20% reductions by 2020, they would still be lag in their carbon intensity figures behind Japan’s 2005 level. On the other hand, Japan has yet to introduce any significant economic measures to tackle global warming.

According to latest data, Japanese emissions in 2007 lay 15% above the country’s target for the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period. The country has been heavily buying carbon credits on global markets to make up for its excess emissions. The poll’s most popular target, of 7% emissions cut by 2020, deepens Japan’s current 6% target for the first commitment period by only 1 percentage point. If it is adopted by the Prime Minister as Japan’s official mid-term target and if Tokyo’s climate policy continues to evolve apace, one can only wish “Happy shopping!” to whatever Japanese administration may be in power ten years from now.

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