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Koike pledges to push carbon tax to meet goals under Kyoto Protocol

by Eriko Arita

industries

News photo
Yuriko Koike
Koike, 53, who was reappointed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the post, is the longest-serving environment minister, holding the portfolio for 25 months since September 2003. She said tackling global warming is one of the major tasks that Koizumi told her to continue pursuing."As the Kyoto Protocol took effect in February, we have no time to waste" to make every effort to meet Japan's reduction target, Koike said in a recent interview.While Japan has to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels by 2012 under the protocol, its emissions in fiscal 2004 were 7.4 percent higher than the 1990 levels, according to a ministry report released last month.Last year, the ministry proposed to the government's Tax Commission a plan to introduce an "environment tax" on carbons aimed at discouraging fossil fuel use. But the idea met strong opposition from the business community.On Oct. 25, the ministry announced a revised version of the tax, in which processors and importers of liquefied petroleum gas and kerosene, for example, would have to pay 2,400 yen per ton of carbon contained in the fuel, the same as the previous proposal.Industries that use coal, natural gas and heavy oil would pay the same tax rate.However, under the new proposal, the levy would not be imposed on gasoline, light oil and jet fuel for the time being given the current high price of crude oil, according to Koike."I will ask – to understand that the tax does not hurt the economy,” she said. “I want to explain the need for the tax to the public.”

As another measure to tackle global warming, the government staged the “Cool Biz” campaign last summer to promote lighter clothing in offices to reduce use of air conditioners. Koike actively promoted the effort and succeeded in making the more casual dress code popular among the public.

There was speculation before the Cabinet reshuffle that Koike would be rewarded for successfully running against a candidate who opposed Koizumi’s postal privatization drive in the Sept. 11 election.

Asked whether she was disappointed with being retained as environment minister, Koike said on the contrary she was happy.

“I was concerned that (the no-necktie trend promoted by the Cool Biz campaign) might be reversed if a minister with a tie was appointed” to the post, she said. “The ministry will work hard to spread the dress code next summer, too.”

Referring to public concern over asbestos problems, Koike said the government is currently discussing details of a bill that would provide financial aid to victims of asbestos-related mesothelioma who cannot receive assistance under current laws.

She said the government aims to submit the bill to the Diet early next year so the victims can receive the aid as early as possible.

While serving as the environment minister, Koike continues to hold the portfolio of minister in charge of Okinawa and affairs related to the Northern Territories.

Late last month, Tokyo and Washington agreed on an interim report on realigning the U.S. forces in Japan — including moving the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, further northeast to Camp Schwab and a section of shallow water offshore.

Koike said she will make efforts to gain the understanding of Okinawa residents for the plan by promoting discussions between the public and the central government.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin is slated to visit Tokyo later this month, Koike said she will try to raise public awareness on the territorial dispute over the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.