Last updated: June 10, 2009 10:56 pm

Japan unveils long-awaited climate target

Taro Aso, Japan’s prime minister, on Wednesday unveiled the country’s long-awaited medium term target for action against global warming, saying the world’s second largest economy would cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 15 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.

However, climate change activists immediately denounced the target – which amounts to only an 8 per cent reduction compared with Japan’s 1990 emissions – as a disappointing concession to industry that could cost Tokyo any chance of playing a leadership role in international climate change negotiations.

Japan’s target also underlines the gulf between rich and poor nations on action to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming. China last month demanded that developed nations cut greenhouse gases by 40 per cent by 2020 compared with 1990.

Tokyo’s mid-term targets for the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, were announced amid climate change talks in Bonn intended to pave the way for conclusion of a new international treaty in December to replace the emissions-capping Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Speaking in a nationally televised press conference, Mr Aso said the new mid-term target would maintain Tokyo’s “leadership” in international action to prevent climate change, a topic that has been at the centre of Japanese diplomacy in recent years.

Mr Aso’s decision to reject more ambitious proposals for emissions cuts of up to 25 per cent from 1990 levels reflects fierce opposition from business groups, which argue that Japanese industry is already the most energy efficient in the world and that further curbs could disastrously undermine its competitiveness.

The Keidanren, Japan’s main business lobby, which had called for emissions to be allowed to rise by 4 per cent from 1990 levels, said Mr Aso’s “political decision” had resulted in “a target that can only be described as exceedingly tough”.

Climate change activists, however, dismissed the Keidanren’s stance as putting short term profit concerns over long-term interests and opportunity.

Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Tokyo committed itself to cut emissions by at least 6 per cent from 1990 levels by 2012 – but Japan remains far from meeting that goal. In 2005, emissions were actually 7.8 per cent higher than in 1990.

Mie Asaoka, head of the anti-climate change group Kiko Network, said the government’s decision to now make 2005 its baseline for future reductions was a “very tricky use of numbers”.

“It’s completely unsatisfactory…and will be the subject of fierce criticism from international society,” Ms Asaoka said.

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