Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s ambitious target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions has been welcomed with great fanfare overseas, prompting domestic environmentalists to feel proud of their nation’s leader for probably the first time.
With less than three months to go until a U.N. conference kicks off in Copenhagen to design a new global framework for easing climate change, expectations are growing that Hatoyama’s target will act as a catalyst for progress in negotiations.
All eyes are now on the specifics of his proposal, in which he says Japan will try to cut greenhouse gases by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.
Japan’s new medium-term goal is far more ambitious than the reduction target of 8 percent set by the previous administration of Taro Aso.
Among other developed nations, President Barack Obama has pledged to bring U.S. emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, while the 27-nation European Union aims to slash its emissions by 20 percent and is ready to raise the goal to 30 percent if other major economies including emerging countries present equally ambitious targets.
A senior Japanese official welcomed Hatoyama’s initiative, saying it will give Japan an edge in the upcoming sessions because it will enable the country to take an “aggressive and offensive” position.
Tokyo was a regular recipient of the Fossil of the Day awards, given out by environmentalist activists during past climate talks for blocking progress in negotiations on global warming. The 8 percent target also drew a barrage of criticism from conservationists and other countries.
Another senior Japanese warned, however, that only the skeleton of the proposal has been presented and that Hatoyama’s new government needs to develop details as soon as possible.
Hatoyama says he will speak more concretely about his policy when he makes his diplomatic debut Tuesday at a United Nations climate change summit to be hosted by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
He will also attend the Group of 20 financial summit in Pittsburgh on Thursday and Friday, which is expected to address the issue of how to finance developing countries’ efforts to tackle global warming.
Climate activists in Japan say Hatoyama should clarify the conditions for the commitment and how much of the 25 percent reduction will be attributed to domestic efforts to slash heat-trapping gases.
Hatoyama has said Japan will seek to achieve the new target only if other major countries agree on “ambitious” reduction targets.
Some observers say it is unclear which countries Hatoyama was referring to and what he means by “ambitious” targets, especially for emerging economies. They fear the 25 percent target could be later withdrawn if such conditions mapped out by Hatoyama are not met.
On achieving reductions, the previous 8 percent target only took into account Japan. It had the potential to be upgraded by counting in reductions that can be achieved naturally through forest absorption of carbon dioxide and through the purchase of emission credits from other countries.
The new administration has not given a breakdown of how it will seek the cuts.
The EU is trying to achieve around one-third of its 20 percent reduction goal through credit purchases, according to an analysis by the Japanese government. The United States has also indicated it may count cuts from both forest absorption and credit acquisition from abroad in implementing its target.
Another factor in Japan’s new proposal drawing global attention is the “Hatoyama Initiative” on financial and technical support for developing countries in combating climate change.
The prime minister said Japanese aid should go to industrializing nations that “eagerly” strive to trim greenhouse gas emissions by setting their own reduction plans.
Environmentalists expect Hatoyama to clarify which countries will fall in this category and specify the amount of aid.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, has suggested that the issue of finance remains a major stumbling block in the negotiations between developed and developing countries.
The EU recently presented an estimate that developing countries will need $146 billion a year by 2020 to contain global warming and announced its plan to contribute between $2.9 billion and $21.9 billion per year by 2020.
Kimiko Hirata, director of the environmental group Kiko Network, said the DPJ-led government needs to quickly work out Hatoyama’s proposal on financial aid.
“The DPJ included its 25 percent emission cut pledge in its election platform, but apparently it has not made enough preparations” for the finance issue, she said.
Hirata said climate activists place high hopes on Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, who is known for his efforts to address climate change.
“The Foreign Ministry is in charge of handling matters related to the G20 summit and we anticipate Mr. Okada will pressure bureaucrats into devising a proposal (on Japan’s financial contribution) with specific amounts,” she said.