Target CO2 cut draws business ire

Competitiveness fears loom but Hatoyama's climate pledge earns praise from abroad


OSAKA — Yukio Hatoyama’s reaffirmation Monday that his incoming government will stick to the Democratic Party of Japan’s campaign pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels has drawn fire from local businesses but also praise from the international community.

The pledge by Hatoyama, who is to be voted in as prime minister next week, was sharply criticized by the major business lobbies, including some of the country’s top polluters.

They warned that the target is unrealistic and will place Japan at a competitive disadvantage as the nation’s firms move overseas in search of less-stringent environmental regulations, and this will ultimately exact a heavy financial toll on both businesses and households.

But the initial reaction from abroad was positive, unlike the disappointment that greeted Prime Minister Taro Aso’s decision in June to pursue what amounted to an 8 percent reduction compared with 1990 levels.

Hatoyama’s announcement, three months to the day before a U.N. conference opens in Copenhagen to work out an international treaty for reducing greenhouse gas emissions between 2012 and 2020, was praised by Yvo de Boer, the U.N.’s top climate negotiator and the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“The DPJ’s intention to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels is laudable. It’s commensurate with what science says is needed and will catalyze real change in the Japanese economy,” de Boer told the Asahi World Environment Forum on Monday, where Hatoyama made his announcement.

“With such a target, Japan will take on the leadership role that industrialized countries have agreed to take in climate change abatement,” de Boer said.

Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard also welcomed Japan’s new commitment.

“For a long time, everybody has been waiting for everybody else in the international (climate) negotiations. Now, Japan has taken a big step forward in setting an ambitious target and I hope other countries will follow,” she said in a statement.

Two of the world’s largest and most influential environmental groups, the WWF Global Climate Initiative and Greenpeace International, also praised Hatoyama’s pledge.

“The decision (by Japan) to get serious about a low carbon future can help break the deadlock (over greenhouse gas emissions targets) between developed and developing countries,” said Kim Carstensen, leader of the WWF Global Climate Initiative.

Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace said Hatoyama’s leadership on the issue is the kind the world needs to see from U.S. President Barack Obama.

In Japan, major nongovernmental organizations Kiko Network and Office Ecologist welcomed the move but called on Japan to provide further leadership in building a low carbon society through the introduction of a carbon trading market and carbon tax on polluters, as well as massive investments in environmentally friendly technologies.

The DPJ goal for Japan is in line with both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommendations in 2007 on steps that developed countries need to take to reduce the likelihood of a climate catastrophe later this century, and a U.N. agreement that same year in Bali, signed by all nations, on how to achieve a post-Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen this December.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s forecast showed that if developed nations reduced their emissions by between 25 percent and 40 percent of 1990 levels between 2012 and 2020, it would increase the likelihood that the Earth’s average temperature would not rise more than 2 degrees this century.

A larger rise, scientists warn, will likely lead to irreversible climate change and catastrophic weather patterns.

Hatoyama also spoke Monday on the need for developing nations to make efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change in the process of achieving sustainable development and eliminating poverty under what is known as the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Such rhetoric is virtually word for word what both developed and developing nations, including Japan, agreed to at the U.N. conference in Bali in December 2007.

In that agreement, developed nations are to establish quantifiable reduction targets at Copenhagen, while developing nations, including China and India, are responsible for nationally appropriate mitigating actions that are measurable and quantifiable.

But they are not obliged to announce the kinds of percentages based on a specific year that the developed countries are responsible for.