New environment chief will have a difficult task crafting CO 2 plan

by Setsuko Kamiya

Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa said Sunday that Japan’s new goal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions will put the country in a strong position at international negotiations on climate change.

But details of how the government will achieve the ambitious goal of reducing emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 has yet to be crafted within the new government, Ozawa admitted. He said he will take the initiative in the discussions among the relevant ministers while also listening to business leaders who remain critical of the Democratic Party of Japan’s pledge.

“I want to show that (working to achieve emission cuts) will not prevent economic growth but will actually promote it,” said Ozawa, 55, in a group interview with several media outlets.

Ozawa will accompany Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama at a high-level United Nations climate change meeting this week. Hatoyama is to deliver a speech Tuesday in which he will outline the new administration’s policies for fighting global warming and call on the international community to agree on ambitious reduction targets.

The DPJ’s goal is much loftier than that set by the previous administration led by Prime Minister Taro Aso of the Liberal Democratic Party, who declared in June that Japan would target a 15 percent reduction from 2005 levels. This is equivalent to an 8 percent cut from 1990 levels.

“Japan’s policies on greenhouse emission cuts have not made progress over the past few years, but I believe Hatoyama’s speech will show the international community that Japan has taken a step forward because of the change in the government,” Ozawa said.

The DPJ has said that a precondition for the cut is that major countries, including the United States, China and India, agree on ambitious reduction targets of their own.

The initiative is expected to include assistance for developing countries.

As a campaign promise for the Aug. 30 Lower House election, the DPJ also vowed to “consider creating” a green tax while making sure that it won’t impose an excessive burden on local government finances or businesses.

Ozawa said he plans to start deliberating on creation of the new tax as part of the process for drawing up next year’s budget.

“The (campaign) manifesto is our pledge to the voters, so I want to stick to it,” he said.

Ozawa also said he is keen to continue the Eco-point program that provides subsidies for consumers purchasing energy-efficient products, including air conditioners, refrigerators and televisions capable of receiving high-quality terrestrial digital broadcasting.

“The program was started by the previous administration, but I believe that it has had a positive impact on not just the environment but the economy as well,” Ozawa said. “I’d like to work to continue it for the next fiscal year.”

Ozawa is one of Hatoyama’s closest aides.

For nearly two years from 2004, Ozawa chaired the Lower House environment committee, giving him a firm grounding in environment policy.

After graduating from the University of Tokyo with a law degree, he studied political science at a research unit run by Eisuke Sakakibara, a Waseda University professor and former senior Finance Ministry official known as “Mr. Yen”