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Environment chief’s first target his home

by Reiji Yoshida

Newly appointed Environment Minister Tetsuo Saito’s top mission is to fight global warming by persuading the public to consume less energy.

But soon after his first news conference Friday night, Saito, 56, realized he first needs to gain the support of the person closest to him — his wife, Toshie, 55.

“My wife telephoned me and said I looked very shabby because I didn’t wear a tie, although all the other ministers wore them,” Saito told reporters Saturday.

He didn’t wear a tie as part of the government’s Cool Biz campaign to dress light in summer so office air conditioners can be set at a higher temperature to save energy.

“I told her I’m not wearing a tie because I’m the environment minister. I think it will still take a lot (of effort) to educate her,” Saito said with a wry smile.

Cool Biz is the most conspicuous government effort to fight global warming. However, Saito’s other tasks look daunting as Japan has so far failed to meet its international promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Japan pledged to reduce its global warming gas emissions by 6 percent from the 1990 level by 2012. But Japan’s emissions, on the contrary, had increased 7.7 percent as of 2005.

Japan separately has pledged to halve its emissions by 2050, but has been criticized for not setting a more realistic midterm goal by around 2020.

During an interview this week, Saito said he believes the midterm goal should be a cut of more than 25 percent in greenhouse gas emissions for developed states to hold expected temperature rises to 2 degrees.

But he quickly added that the figure is not an official government goal yet as diplomatic negotiations over emission caps are still ongoing.

Saito had been policy chief of New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. His party wants Japan to target a 25 percent emissions reduction by 2020. The government will announce its midterm goal sometime next year, he said.

Before becoming a Lower House member in 1993, Saito, who has a doctorate in engineering, worked for Shimizu Corp., a major construction company.

One of his main projects at the company was to study the feasibility of constructing solar panels in space that would transmit electricity to Earth via microwaves.

“In space, the intensity of solar energy is twice that on the ground, and there are no clouds,” Saito said.

The idea may still sound like science fiction since constructing 50-sq.-km panels would be needed to generate 1 million kw — equivalent to the output of a large nuclear plant.

But “it’s not impossible,” and basic research is continuing, Saito said.

“I think Japan needs to push for such projects actively” to try to find alternative energy sources, he said.