WARSAW/BERLIN – The government’s decision to lower its carbon emissions target immediately came under widespread criticism from international negotiators at U.N. climate talks in Poland, with one environmental group calling it “a bad joke.”
The United Nations, European Union and the world’s small island states reacted with disappointment to Friday’s announcement by Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara in Tokyo, while green nongovernmental groups voiced fury.
“Today, Japan slashed its 2020 emission reduction target — with the new pledge equating to a 3.1 percent INCREASE in pollution from 1990 levels,” read a statement by the Climate Action Network, a global network of more than 850 NGOs, which handed Japan the ignominious Fossil of the Day award for reneging on an earlier pledge to slash greenhouse gases by 25 percent from that base year.
“The UNFCCC is about negotiating to raise the level of climate action, so this must be a bad joke,” it said. Warsaw is hosting the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP19) from Nov. 11 to 22, under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government announced it would aim for a 3.8 percent cut in emissions by 2020 from 2005 levels, replacing the 25 percent reduction goal — from 1990 levels — set in 2009 by the previous administration.
U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres expressed “regret” at the Abe administration’s move, while others at the COP19 talks in the Polish capital attacked it as a fresh blow to an already troubled process.
“Japan is a highly advanced economy. . . . They have made impressive advances both in increasing their efficiency as well as solar energy investments, and our sense is that Japan can and will continue those and will soon see that the current (3.8 percent) target is actually conservative,” Figueres said at a separate briefing.
The European Union meanwhile urged Abe’s government to consider the consequences of its actions, while the Alliance of Small Island States, which comprises 44 countries and observers from around the world, said the new target is “a huge step backward” for global efforts to reduce emissions.
But Tokyo stood its ground and said the about-face had been forced by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdowns. At the moment, none of Japan’s 50 viable commercial reactors are in operation. To fill the void, utilities have switched to thermal power generation that increases carbon dioxide emissions since it relies on fossil fuels.
“I want to assure you my country is still ambitious on climate change,” Japan’s embattled envoy, Hiroshi Minami, told journalists at the annual U.N. talks on limiting carbon emissions. “My prime minister is committed to the climate change challenge.”
The previous, far more ambitious goal drawn up before the Fukushima disaster had been based on the assumption that an increasing share of the nation’s electricity would be provided by nuclear power.
In a press statement, the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, said member states recognize Japan’s difficulties after the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami caused three meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, shuttering its atomic energy industry, but said Tokyo should nevertheless keep its earlier promise on emissions.
“The European Union and its 28 member states call on Japan to consider the implications of the new target for Japan’s contribution to international mitigation action,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, British energy and climate change minister Ed Davey issued a statement Friday saying, “It is deeply disappointing that the Japanese government has taken this decision to significantly revise down its 2020 emissions goal.
“If it remains as announced, (the new target) would represent a dramatic dilution of Japan’s mitigation ambition. . . . We urge the government of Japan to reassess this decision and increase the target in the near future as it clarifies its future energy policy,” Davey said on the website of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
At a news conference, an official of the German government also expressed disappointment with Tokyo’s decision and cited concern over its negative impact on the ongoing COP19 session. The official also stressed Germany’s readiness to help Japan on climate-related issues, given its current heavy reliance on fossil fuels for thermal power while its nuclear plants remain idle.