Carbon emissions up 3.9% amid reactor halt

Bloomberg, JIJI

Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions for the year that ended March 31 rose 3.9 percent from the year before on increased use of fossil fuels by power utilities after the Fukushima meltdowns effectively led to the shutdown of all but two atomic reactors.

Excluding carbon credits earned by offsetting greenhouse gas output overseas, emissions increased to 1.307 billion metric tons in the 12 months, or 3.6 percent higher than 1990 levels, according to Environment Ministry figures released Wednesday.

Under Kyoto Protocol targets set in 1997, Japan committed to cut its greenhouse gases by 6 percent from 1990 in the period from 2008 to 2012, when the accord’s first term expires. The ministry’s announcement came as talks involving envoys from more than 190 countries in Doha on future cuts in emissions appear headed for stalemate.

The ministry said that taking into account the absorption of carbon dioxide by forests and carbon credits earned, Japan cut emissions by an average of 9.2 percent from 2008 to 2011.

“It is not impossible to achieve the goal” of a 6 percent reduction, Kentaro Doi, a ministry official in charge of climate change, said at a press briefing in Tokyo.

However, nuclear plants — which emit virtually no greenhouse gases — provided about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity before Fukushima No. 1 power station experienced three reactor core meltdowns in March 2011. The government subsequently shut down all 50 of the nation’s commercial reactors for safety checks, and only restarted two. The public has meanwhile staged mass demonstrations against restarts.

As a result, the country’s nine utilities that rely on atomic energy were forced to turn to power plants fired by gas, oil and coal to keep the world’s third-largest economy running. The companies are facing a bill of around ¥6.8 trillion for fuel this fiscal year, almost double that in the 12 months before the Fukushima disaster started.

Also Wednesday, the National Institute for Environmental Studies said it has calculated more accurate estimates for global carbon dioxide emissions and removal by using observation data from the Ibuki satellite.

Data collected by the satellite contributed to improving the accuracy of estimates for areas with few ground-based observatories, the institute said. The government-affiliated entity plans to boost the accuracy of its estimates further and utilize them for policymaking on global warming.

The latest estimates covered emissions between June 2009 and May 2010. Parts of Asia, including Japan and China, were found to have posted the largest amount of net emissions in January 2010, when they totaled 305 million tons in carbon equivalent.

The Ibuki greenhouse gas observation satellite, developed jointly by the institute, the Environment Ministry and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, was launched in January 2009.