Japan under fire for laying low in Copenhagen

by Eric Johnston

COPENHAGEN — Japan needs to step up and take a more prominent and visible leadership role at the U.N. climate talks or the conference could end in failure, Japanese and foreign nongovernmental organizations said Thursday.

The Copenhagen conference is supposed to forge a deal on greenhouse gas emissions after the first period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

With developed and developing countries still divided and a growing split within developing countries over some issues threatening a successful outcome at the conference, calls for the country where the protocol was forged to do more are growing.

“Talks in Copenhagen are on the verge of collapse, with negotiations suspended for several hours Wednesday as developed and developing countries clashed,” the environmental NGO Avaaz.org said.

“Next week, Japan has the opportunity to break the deadlock by announcing an ambitious Hatoyama Initiative and fulfilling its obligation to provide developing countries with sufficient climate finance.”

With developing nations asking for hundreds of billions of dollars in aid guarantees for climate change mitigation and adaptation, developed countries like Japan are feeling pressure to go well beyond financial pledges of $10 billion annually from 2010 to 2012, which are currently being discussed.

“Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s ministers are in intensive deliberations this week to decide whether Japan will lead the world and announce a bold and visionary finance package or whether Hatoyama is content to let the most critical moment in the history of climate politics slide by with an irresponsibly inadequate short-term finance package,” Avaaz said.

Kiko Network, a group of Japan-based NGOs, also chimed in.

“The world is waiting on Japanese leadership, but there’s not much time left,” the group said in a statement. “Japan needs to quickly reaffirm what it will do under the Hatoyama Initiative (in terms of providing funding to developing countries) and bring a concrete initiative to COP15,” as the climate conference is known.

Japan’s lack of leadership and visibility in Copenhagen, and not just in the negotiating sessions, has been noticed by other participants.

International journalists and NGOs say they have almost no idea what Japan is thinking or what it’s position is on the major issues raised by developing countries.

Unlike their counterparts from the United States, the European Union, China, India, Brazil and Indonesia, the Japanese delegation has yet to hold a news conference open to all media, while Japanese NGOs provide Japanese-language media briefings by invitation only.

On Thursday evening, the Environment Ministry did sponsor a well-attended symposium on Japan’s environmental policies under the Hatoyama Initiative and what steps Japan is taking to combat global warming at home and around the world.

Officials defended the role Japan has played so far, saying the reduction targets announced by the Hatoyama administration were ambitious and showed leadership.

“Japan is the fourth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world. But Prime Minister Hatoyama announced a target of 25 percent reductions by 2020, based on 1990,” said Atsuhiro Yoshinaka, an Environment Ministry official.

“We believe Japan has encouraged other developed countries to take initiatives and set ambitious targets themselves and that our targets have heightened international momentum to speed up discussions here at COP15,” he said.

U.N.’s Ban speaks

NEW YORK (Kyodo) U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said Thursday that Japan has a “special” role to play at the climate change conference in Copenhagen, where global leaders are working to craft a treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

“Symbolically, politically, historically, Japan has a special role to play,” Ban told a group of reporters from Japanese news organizations ahead of his trip to the Danish capital, where he is scheduled to open the high-level segment of the meeting Tuesday. “You (Japan) have technology. You have financial capacity. Now you have shown the political leadership role.”

The U.N. chief was referring to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s pledge at a U.N. summit on climate change in September in New York for Japan to achieve a 25 percent reduction of its emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels. According to Ban, the bold move led other countries to come forward with their own ambitious proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Hatoyama, as well as U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, are among the more than 110 world leaders who will participate in the Copenhagen meeting. The conference is expected to yield a political commitment, rather than a legally binding text, which was the initial aim.

“I still expect that the Japanese government, the prime minister, in Copenhagen will lead this campaign and will make a great contribution,” he said, adding that Tokyo should urge other global leaders to “follow the Japanese example.”

Although acknowledging Hatoyama’s domestic challenges in implementing the 25 percent cut, he said no country should bow to internal pressure.