Japan’s Next Premier Vows to Cut Emissions Sharply

TOKYO - Japan's presumptive prime minister breathed new life on Monday into efforts to curb global warming, standing by a campaign pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent in the next 10 years from 1990 levels - a target that environmentalists said puts Japan at the forefront of the fight against climate change.
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Toru Hanai/Reuters
Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's incoming prime minister, told environmentalists on Monday that he would press his country to cut greenhouse gas emissions, if other major polluters did the same.
Times Topics: Global Warming |Japan | Yukio Hatoyama
Nonetheless, the incoming prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, whose center-left Democrats swept to a landmark electoral victory last month, attached what appeared to be a new caveat to his pledge, saying it was contingent on similarly ambitious goals by other major polluters.
That could become a major obstacle because of a deadlock between industrialized and emerging economies over who should bear the most responsibility for emission cuts.
"Climate change is already upon us, and its effects are amplifying," Mr. Hatoyama said at an environment conference in Tokyo. "Of course, Japan's reduction targets alone cannot stop climate change. We will seek to build an international framework that involves all major countries and is fair and realistic."
He also said, "The condition for Japan's promise to international society is that all major countries agree to ambitious targets."
Japan has been under pressure to set tougher climate policies after its emissions hit a record in 2008, putting the country 16 percent above targets set 12 years ago in the global-warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol.
Even with Mr. Hatoyama's caveat, environmentalists lauded Japan's new reductions target as going significantly further than the goals set by the departing government of Taro Aso, which had been roundly criticized. They also said Japan could help build momentum ahead of a summit meeting on climate change in Copenhagen this year.
The European Union has promised to cut emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels, and by 30 percent if other wealthy nations follow suit. In the United States, Congress is debating a bill that would reduce emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels.
Martin Kaiser, climate policy director at Greenpeace International, said Japan's target under the new government was "the first sign of climate leadership we have seen out of any developed country for quite some time."
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also praised Japan, saying its emissions target "is commensurate with what science says is needed and will catalyze real change in the Japanese economy."
Still, Mr. Hatoyama's pledge is expected to face stiff opposition from industrial lobbies, which argue that Japanese industry is already highly energy efficient, and that committing to such steep emissions cuts will hurt an economy struggling through its worst recession in decades.
A government report issued earlier this year showed that pursuing a 25 percent cut from 1990 levels could hurt important manufacturing industries, threatening almost 90 million jobs and weighing on household incomes.
Keidanren, Japan's biggest business federation, has said it opposes any cut bigger than 6 percent from 1990 levels.
Others call Mr. Hatoyama's targets naïve and a threat to Japan's competitiveness.
"I don't think Mr. Hatoyama realizes what he is committing Japan to," said Tsutomu Toichi, managing director at the Institute of Energy Economics, a Tokyo-based research group. "He has to realize that this is not a campaign slogan. It's an international pledge to which Japan will be held accountable."
Some critics have pointed to other policies in the Democrats' campaign platform that seem to contradict their commitment to reducing greenhouse emissions. The party swept to power on a promise of wide-ranging measures to lift Japan out of recession.
To help households, for example, the Democrats have proposed ending highway tolls and a gas surcharge. Environmentalists say such moves could lead to a shift away from public transportation and increase pollution.
It is also not clear how much of the emissions cuts will come from real reductions in Japan, rather than so-called carbon offsets, which allow governments to pay others to make their carbon reductions for them.
"We'll have to monitor how the Democrats balance various policies going forward," said Masako Konishi, climate policy adviser to the conservation group W.W.F. Japan. "But Mr. Hatoyama's ambitions go far beyond anything we've seen in Japan."
Experts say Japan's new climate change agenda should press other countries to prepare similarly ambitious targets before the meeting in Copenhagen. Almost 200 countries are expected to attend Dec. 6 to 18 to set worldwide goals for reducing carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
There is concern, however, that the Obama administration, embroiled in a debate over health care, will not have time to win Congress's support on emissions reductions before the conference.
Deciding how much wealthy countries like the United States and Japan should cut emissions - and how much that burden should be borne by emerging economies like China and India, which are big polluters - will be a major issue in Copenhagen.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a global scientific body, said the new Japanese government could play a leading role in those talks.
"With leaders like Mr. Hatoyama attending," Mr. Pachauri said, "there is every reason to believe that we will get a strong agreement in Copenhagen."