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Japan’s greenhouse gas proposal draws fire for base year swap

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Bloomberg

Japan’s promise to cut greenhouse gases by 26 percent by 2030 as part of a global deal to fight climate change has drawn quick criticism from environmental groups that say the effort is both statistically unsound and too timid.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government said the reductions will be made from a 2013 baseline. That year, Japan recorded its second-highest emissions level ever as it burned heaps of fossil fuels to replace all nuclear power lost in the wake of the Fukushima core meltdowns triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Using 2013 as a benchmark, Japan’s effort would appear more ambitious than European Union proposals. But using 1990 or 2005 as a base year would leave Japan trailing the pack of richer industrial nations working to rein in the pollution blamed for global warming.

Japan’s proposal “relegates it to that of a laggard on climate,” Wael Hmaidan, executive director of Climate Action Network International, which speaks for 900 groups, said in a letter to the government. “With this bare minimum target, Japan has not presented a credible plan to shift its economy from reliance on climate change-causing fossil fuels.”

Some were more scathing.

Hisayo Takada, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace in Tokyo, said choosing 2013 as a base year is “almost cheating.”

Government estimates

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the environment ministry, which released the draft in Tokyo on Thursday, said that based on a 2005 baseline, Japan will cut 25.4 percent compared with the EU’s 35 percent. If 1990 is the benchmark, Japan’s 18 percent reduction would compare with 40 percent in the EU.

The U.S. is targeting a reduction of 26 to 28 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels. That would equal a 14 to 16 percent cut from 1990 levels and an 18 to 21 percent cut from 2013 levels, both by 2025.

“We, as the Ministry of the Environment, believe this target was something that is comparable globally,” Hiroaki Takiguchi, director of the ministry’s low-carbon society promotion office, told reporters, adding that Japan plans to register targets using both 2013 and 2005 as base years.

The recommendations will be used to shape Japan’s contribution to the U.N., which in December in Paris will bring together envoys from more than 190 nations to negotiate a climate deal applying to all nations for the first time.

Broken promise

Japan, an architect of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that limited emissions in industrial nations only, backtracked on its commitments under that deal.

Its targeted cut was included in a draft report presented to a panel set up by the trade and environment ministries. The report advises Japan to reduce emissions through measures such as efficiency and the use of next-generation cars powered by sources such as fuel cells and electric motors.

Some countries have sent their emission reduction plans to the United Nations ahead of the Paris climate meetings.

As part of the agreement announced by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November to control their nations’ pollution, China said it expects its emissions to peak by 2030, and it will increase the share of power produced from non-carbon sources.

Before the last major round of climate talks in 2009, Japan agreed with other Group of Eight nations to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. Two years later, an earthquake and tsunami devastated it and choked off nuclear energy. That has resulted in Japan burning more coal and natural gas to generate electricity.

“While Japan’s immediate increased reliance on fossil fuels was understandable, the grace period is now over,” E3G, a London-based nonprofit group that promotes sustainability, said in a statement. “Japan’s decision to build a fleet of new coal power stations, while restricting the growth of renewables and failing to improve efficiency, is putting it more and more out of step with global economic and political trends.”

Greenhouse gas emissions rose 1.2 percent in fiscal 2013 amid a surge in coal consumption for power generation.

A draft report from METI has proposed that atomic power account for as much as 22 percent of the nation’s power by 2030. Clean energy should account for as much as 24 percent.

Nuclear generated more than a quarter of its power before the Fukushima disaster.