Japan eyes proactive climate diplomacy in 2009

by Ko Hirano

Kyodo News

POZNAN, Poland — Japan is expected to pursue proactive yet balanced climate diplomacy in 2009 to ensure the involvement of the United States, China and India — responsible for nearly half the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — in a new treaty to fight global warming.

Policymakers and analysts believe Barack Obama’s inauguration as U.S. president on Jan. 20 will inject vigor into U.N. negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. About 190 countries aim to adopt the successor pact at a December 2009 meeting in Copenhagen.

In contrast to George W. Bush, Obama has signaled a turnaround in U.S. climate policy by promising to “engage vigorously” in global talks.

Obama vows to cut U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 before reducing them a further 80 percent by 2050. Bush only called for curbing growth in U.S. emissions by 2025.

“Relations with the U.S. will be delicate and important” in creating an effective carbon-capping framework after the Kyoto pact expires in 2012 with all major emitting countries on board, Environment Minister Tetsuo Saito said.

Saito said he acknowledges that China, India and other emerging economies won’t join a post-2012 regime unless industrial nations set ambitious midterm targets based on science. Saito said the United States won’t accept a deal unless it involves China and other emerging economies that will produce the bulk of the increase in emissions in the coming decades.

Analysts welcome Obama’s approach on climate change but say his 2020 goal may not be “ambitious enough” to have emerging economies implement robust mitigation actions in a post-2012 architecture.

“Japan is expected to cooperate with the next U.S. administration in a way to encourage it to employ a more aggressive climate policy,” said Shinichi Mizuta, a foreign policy analyst at Mitsubishi Research Institute in Tokyo.

Obama’s 2020 target is weaker than the reduction level allotted to Washington by the Kyoto Protocol, which requires 37 developed countries — accounting for only 30 percent of the world’s total emissions — to slash emissions by an average of 5 percent by 2008-2012 from 1990 levels.

Bush rejected Kyoto, saying it would harm the U.S. economy and unfairly exempts China, India and other emerging countries from any sacrifices. Had Washington ratified it, the United States would have been required to rein in emissions by 7 percent between 2008 and 2012 from 1990 levels.

“I would expect that Japan will urge the United States to pursue deeper cuts so as to make a good balance with the European Union, which has a more aggressive mitigation goal,” Mizuta said, referring to the 27-nation bloc’s target of cutting emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

“It will be a delicate balancing act,” he said, “because it also involves the setting of Japan’s own midterm reduction target, while ensuring the engagement of emerging economies in the fight against global warming.”

Japan has pledged to reduce its emissions by 60 percent to 80 percent by 2050 from current levels. But the world’s fourth-biggest emitter after the United States, China and Russia has stopped short of unveiling a midterm reduction target, saying it will announce one “at an appropriate time” in 2009.

A 2020 or 2030 target is crucial not only for Japan and the United States but for other economies because it represents a key component of a post-2012 architecture.

Saito said Japan will unveil an ambitious target so the country can exert leadership in U.N. climate talks.

During a meeting with NGOs on the sidelines of U.N. climate change talks in Poznan, Poland, that ended Saturday, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he personally believes the United States should pursue a deeper reduction level for 2020, according to a participant in the meeting.