Japan changes emissions target in setback for U.N. talks

Bloomberg

The government has set a new target for greenhouse gas emissions that critics say will set back United Nations talks for a treaty limiting fossil fuel emissions.

The new target effectively reverses course from the goal set four years ago by allowing a 3.1 percent increase in emissions from 1990 levels rather than seeking a 25 percent cut.

“This move by Japan could have a devastating impact on the tone of discussion here in Warsaw,” Naoyuki Yamagishi, an official at WWF Japan, said in a statement at climate talks in Poland in anticipation of the government’s decision “It could further accelerate the race to the bottom among other developed countries when the world needs decisive and immediate actions to ‘raise’ ambition, not to ‘lower’ ambition.”

The new target, announced Friday by Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara in Tokyo, calls for Japan to cut emissions by 3.8 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels. Ministry data shows Japan’s production of greenhouse gases increased 7 percent by 2005 compared with 1990, the baseline for the government’s previous goal.

The previous commitment, set in 2009, sought to reduce emissions 25 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels. The new goal would represent a 3.1 percent increase from 1990 if that year is used as the starting point, according to Bloomberg calculations.

China has singled out Japan and the European Union for their failures on action against carbon pollution.

Su Wei, China’s lead climate negotiator at the UN talks in Warsaw, said prior to Ishihara’s announcement that reports indicating Japan would scale back its ambitions were deeply concerning.

“I don’t have any words to describe my dismay at that announcement forthcoming,” Su told reporters in Warsaw on Thursday, speaking of the Japanese announcement.

Japan is at the heart of climate talks in Poland as the world’s third-biggest economy and the host for negotiations in Kyoto in 1997 that resulted in the only treaty limiting emissions.

The new target is predicated on Japan not having any nuclear generating capacity, Ishihara told reporters.

Japan’s 50 operating nuclear reactors are currently offline after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011 forced operators to carry out additional safety checks.

To fill the gap, utilities have switched to thermal power generation, which increases carbon dioxide emissions because it relies on traditional fossil fuels such as coal and gas.