Japan Sharply Cuts Carbon Reduction Pledge

Japan's announcement yesterday at the global climate meeting in Warsaw that it could no longer promise to make a 25 percent cut to its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, but instead would aim for a 3 percent cut, did not go over well. The Philippine typhoon already had cast a pall on the meeting of parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, reducing members of some delegations to tears, reportedly. Representatives of highly endangered island and low-lying states naturally were looking for stronger action from the big, rich countries, not weaker.

Four years ago, at the fifteenth Conference of Parties in Copenhagen ("COP-15"), an informal accord was adopted in which the nations of the world agreed to submit pledges about what they hoped to accomplish by 2020. In effect this turned out to be a substitute for the advanced industrial countries' making firm, binding commitments for the period of 2012-2020, as the controversial Kyoto Protocol had envisioned. In keeping with the Copenhagen Accord, the industrial countries proceeded to submit pledges as to how much they hoped to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, while the fast-growing large developing countries like China and India mostly sent in promises to reduce carbon intensity—the amount of greenhouse gas emitted per unit output.

Many of those pledges were a little vague and carefully hedged, including Japan's. In its filing with the secretariat of the Framework Convention, Japan said it would cut emissions 25 percent, "premised on the establishment of a fair and effective international framework in which all major economies participate and on agreement by those economies on ambitious targets." Its 25-percent pledge was generally taken to refer to the 1990 Kyoto baseline, though that is not stated explicitly in its filing. However, the weak pledge of a 3 percent cut refers to a 2005 base year. So it represents even more of a scale-back in national ambitions than it appears, because the country's emissions were higher in 2005 than they were in 1990.

Oddly, Japan's reduced pledge does not take account of the possible or even likely restart of at least some of the nation's nuclear reactors and in fact is based on the prospect of a non-nuclear future, even though that is not official policy. As any casual reader of the world press knows these days, the incumbent government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe advocates renewed reliance on nuclear energy, while Junichiro Koizumi, a flashy former prime minister, says the country should end use of atomic power entirely. So, why would official Japan submit a sharply reduced climate pledge—based on a premise that is by no means official policy— knowing it would not go over well? Could the government be trying to put pressure on anti-nuclear environmentalists at home, telling them in effect that the price of no nukes will be much higher greenhouse gas emissions?

Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty

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