Worrisome Prospects for Japanese Climate Policy

Måndag, 8. Mars 2010     0 kommentti(a)
Alexandru Luta
Internationell miljö- och naturresurspolitik forsknigsprogram
In September 2009, fresh from an astounding electoral upset a few weeks before, new Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio officially delivered his party’s pledge to reduce his country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from 1990 levels by 2020 to the world – and environmentalists gearing up for the Copenhagen conference cheered.

However, as anybody who has ever made a New Year’s resolution would know, making a big announcement is one thing, while “operationalizing” it is quite another. A draft for a Basic Law on Global Warming has been in the works for more than six months and, if it is to happen this year, the government has to submit it to the Diet by the end of this week.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), PM Hatoyama’s party, enjoys a majority in the Lower House and, together with its coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party of Japan and the People’s New Party, forms with 118 seats out of 242 the largest group in the country’s Upper House as well. Under these conditions, passing legislation that would enable Japan to achieve the DPJ’s pledge might sound like a breeze – but things may shape up quite differently.

It has been very poignantly noted elsewhere that, having vanquished the behemoth that was the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the DPJ is fast becoming one itself. Japanese unions and professional associations have functioned in the past as immense vote-generating machines for the LDP. However, with the latter seemingly unable to recover from the sound thrashing it got last summer, these large bodies have come to the conclusion that their efforts might be best served by shifting their allegiance to the DPJ. As one would expect, the new administration has been eager to embrace the support of interest groups that have in the past been staunch LDP pillars.

And that is exactly where the problem may lie. Japan, having barely rejected a government that for 54 years had nearly uninterruptedly run the country through a single faceless mega-party, seems to be going through the motions of replacing it with another one. Climate policy went nowhere under the LDP, so if the DPJ morphs into a new LDP, will there not be a danger that this situation repeats itself?

The DPJ shiny new pledge is starting to take a beating. Already (Point Carbon - subscription required) one of the DPJ traditional supporters, the Japan Trade Union Confederation, has come out expressing support for a nation-wide emissions trading scheme that would employ intensity-based targets, allowing actual emissions to increase as long as the carbon intensity of economic activity decreased. This is hardly in the spirit of an ambitious policy plan that would see emissions decrease by nearly a third from current levels during the following decade. The insistence of their Social Democrat coalition partners on halting the expansion of the nuclear power sector (Point Carbon - subscription required) could also curtail the DPJ’s ability to construct policy that would contribute meaningfully to global climate change mitigation.

The current Japanese administration took steps in the right direction when it proclaimed the new pledge. The Basic Law on Global Warming is going to test their resolve: if they wish to become an amorphous vote-addicted political entity or if they will decide to transform lofty principles into hard policy. The take-home message from the August 2009 elections should be quite clear for anybody who has been following Japanese politics for a while. This week will show if the DPJ elders have been listening, too.

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