WASHINGTON – Environment Minister Satsuki Eda vowed Wednesday to maintain Japan’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, despite the uncertainty hanging over the future of nuclear power amid the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant.
The pledge, made in 2009 by then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, has been increasingly called into question because it was based on the premise of building more reactors and increasing the utilization rate of existing ones, neither of which now seems very likely.
On the future of the Kyoto Protocol, which commits Japan and other developed countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Eda stuck to the country’s opposition of assuming new obligations under the existing framework by setting the “second commitment period.”
The 1997 protocol obliges nearly 40 developed countries to reduce their emissions over a five-year period through the end of 2012 by an average of 5.2 percent from 1990 levels.
The devastation from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear crisis “certainly don’t mean we can destroy the global environment,” Eda said in an interview. “Japan’s international responsibility hasn’t changed.”
Eda, who assumed the ministerial post in late June in a minor Cabinet reshuffle and who also doubles as justice minister, said that in light of the multiple disasters, “There are growing calls among the people for reviewing” the country’s energy policy in favor of renewable energy.
A recent Kyodo survey showed that the public now overwhelmingly supports renewable energy, such as solar power and wind, as the energy source the country should focus on. Nuclear power was among the least favored.
Offering small hydropower generation units used in creeks as one option, his ministry should promote ways to find the country’s best energy mix, Eda said. “It is now time we thought about what kinds of efforts we should make to achieve the (25 percent reduction) goal at any cost.”
As negotiators struggle to seek an international framework for curbing global warming beyond 2012, Eda said setting a new round of reduction commitments under the Kyoto pact merely to avoid creating a gap period without any legally binding agreement “would not lead to preventing global warming in the end.”
Japan opposes setting the second commitment period on the grounds that it will perpetuate a framework that does not include China and the United States, the world’s top two carbon dioxide emitters. The United States has never ratified the protocol.
Tokyo instead advocates creating a single new framework that binds all the major carbon dioxide emitters, but hope has all but faded for a new binding pact to be reached at a U.N. climate conference in Durban, South Africa, later this year.
Saying there is still time before negotiators gather for that meet, Eda said, “Japan will take the initiative for the true benefit of Earth and continue to do its best.”
U.S. seeks explanation
State Foreign Secretary Chiaki Takahashi said Wednesday a senior U.S. official has called for an explanation about Japan’s future energy policy, following Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s recent remarks that the country should aim for a nuclear-free society.
After talks with Thomas Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources, Takahashi told reporters that the U.S. official asked what Japan plans to do in its energy policy in the near term and long term.