Japan’s climate goals face familiar barriers

Japan’s cabinet on Friday approved a ‘basic bill’ outlining the government’s relatively ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020; and by 80 per cent by 2050. But the goals are beset by criticisms familiar to other developed countries attempting to pass climate bills.

By getting agreement before the end of last week, the Japanese government avoided a possible lengthy delay until after elections in July. The bill, which is now before parliament and is expected to be approved by the end of the month, is light on details, and states that any measures should not be introduced until next year. Argus reports that it puts a cap-and-trade programme, carbon taxes, and nuclear and renewable measures at the heart of efforts to reduce emissions, adding:

But it leaves the possibility that some of the sectors would only have a cap on their emissions intensity, rather than volumes of emissions.

Industry minister Masayuki Naoshima has expressed support for the approach of capping emissions as a proportion of output rather than absolute emissions, which is similar to China’s international climate commitment. With Japan’s slow growth in recent years, this approach could have a much stronger net emissions to that of China [SOMETHING STRANGE IN THIS CLAUSE], but it would be an unusual path to take in the developed world.

There are also arguments that the focus should be on renewables and clean technology. Naoshima told the FT in February that:

…Japan should focus its efforts to cut emissions on developing new environmental technologies rather than rushing to introduce mandatory carbon trading or other burdensome measures.

On Friday he indicated his support for an industry proposal to cap greenhouse gasses as a proportion of output, instead of in absolute terms, a change environmental activists say would weaken any carbon trading system but which would correspond to China’s approach to limiting emissions.

Some of the concerns about how to limit emissions come from Japan’s existing leadership among industrial nations in terms of energy efficiency – it made great strides on efficiency after the oil embargos of the 1970s and there are fears it has little room to improve on that front. Efficiency measures are seen as a realistic and possibly cost-saving way to reduce emissions. For example, a McKinsey report published last year estimated that efficiency measures in the US could save almost $700m bt 2020 and reduce GHG emissions by 1.1 gigatonnes a year.

The country’s prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, supports the measures but has political problems that would not be unfamiliar to his fellow leaders in the US and Australia, who are also attempting to pass legislation to reduce GHG emissions. One party within Japan’s governing coalition opposes measures to expand nuclear power, while the union constituency fears emissions limits would cause manufacturing jobs to ‘leak’ overseas.

Related links:

Japan’s newfound emissions enthusiasm (FT Energy Source)
Editorial: Japan’s green gift to Copenhagen (FT)
Increase your energy efficiency: Wear a short-sleeved safari suit (FT Energy Source)

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