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In Japan Haggling over Greenhouse Gas Targets Begins Anew

Posted by: Kenji Hall on February 13, 2009

What’s the use of setting targets for lower greenhouse gas emissions if you can’t meet them? This week, a Japanese government panel of experts floated six possible gas-emissions reduction targets for 2020. The targets, ranging from a 25% reduction to a 6% increase, are revealing: While people may agree about the need to combat global warming they have very different ideas about how to do it and what defines success.

Japan, which hosted the Kyoto Protocol, is just as guilty as any other country (that is, any country that went so far as to set a target) of coming up short so far. By 2012, Tokyo aims to reduce gas emissions to 6% below 1990 levels). In recent years, Japanese officials have led a huge national effort to lower energy use in homes, offices, utilities and factories. But Tokyo’s most recent estimates show that the country continues to emit more carbon dioxide and other gases that are blamed for global warming.

And yet Japan fights on. The latest behind-the-scenes haggling over policy reflects two opposing views. At one end are the environmentalists who want Japan to take the lead by setting ambitious goals. At the other end are business leaders who say Tokyo should be practical and lower the bar, making it easier on companies that account for the bulk of emissions and will be doing the heavy-lifting for Japan to achieve its targets.

It will be interesting to see if the global economic slowdown, which has led companies to cut back on production across Japan, will give the country’s eco-goals a boost.

Full details of how the targets would be reached won’t be released until April. The government has its work cut out for it if it’s hoping to make a decision by June. For now, the only information available is the percentages and a few other morsels. Some of the targets are based on government forecasts for a carbon-trading market; others assume that Tokyo will abide by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s proposals. Will the government appease environmentalists by strong-arming businesses to meet tough standards or let the biggest corporate polluters off the hook?

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