Japan disappointed by Trump’s decision to quit Paris agreement

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Staff Writer

Japanese government officials, business leaders, and environmental groups expressed regret Friday at U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement that America was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, but vowed to find ways to work with the U.S. on tackling climate change.

However, there were also warnings from Japanese climate change activists that pro-fossil fuel politicians, bureaucrats, and business leaders should not view Trump’s decision as an excuse to scale back Japan’s own efforts to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.

The accord, signed in 2015 by nearly 200 parties and ratified by 148, seeks to hold the increase in the global average temperature to less than 2 degrees above pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees via voluntary national targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists conclude that failure will likely lead to dangerous, irreversible levels of climate change.

Japan ratified the Paris accord last November, and has set a national greenhouse gas reduction goal of 26 percent below 2013 levels by 2030. That target has been criticized both domestically and internationally by climatologists and activists as scientifically inadequate, though a good political start.

“America’s announcement that it is pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement is regrettable. We thought we could cooperate on climate change with the U.S. based on the agreement. Responding to the problem of climate change is a global issue, we’ll continue to work with the U.S. on the problem,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday morning.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida also expressed disappointment but said Japan would “work with other parties to the Paris agreement for its steady and full implementation.”

Others held out hope that the U.S. might still be persuaded to rethink its decision.

“It’s extremely disappointing. But the withdrawal has only just been announced. If possible, I’d like to persuade the U.S. (to reconsider),” said Environment Minister Koichi Yamamoto.

International activists said Trump’s decision now leaves the door open for China to become the world’s leader on bringing about a low carbon future.

“President Trump is taking his administration in the opposite direction to the rest of the world. While China cancels coal power plants, Trump cancels climate action. Trump’s attempt to sabotage the global transition to a safer clean energy future won’t succeed. It will only corner the U.S. and present China with an opportunity to reap the economic benefits of America’s withdrawal,” said Li Shuo, East Asia senior global policy officer for Greenpeace.

That feeling is echoed by some Japanese environmental activists, who worry that Trump has now provided a pretext for Japan’s coal and fossil fuel lobbies to pressure the Abe administration into using more coal and oil rather than push for a low carbon society that uses more renewable energy.

“It’s possible that, using Trump’s decision as an excuse, there will be calls to relax Japan’s climate policies even though a carbon-free world has become inevitable. At the same time, this future world presents huge business opportunities. Japan’s business community should seize this opportunity to take leadership in a future carbon-free world,” said Naoyuki Yamagishi, leader of WWF Japan’s climate and energy group, in a media statement.

Kiko Network, a leading climate NGO, tracks Japan’s coal plants, and noted that, as of last month, there were 96 coal-fired plants in operation nationwide. Plans call for nearly 50 more to go into operation over the next decade or so. That, plus the Abe administration’s rush to restart nuclear plants, has Kiko representatives concerned.

“The government has announced its policies to combat global warming policy after accepting the Paris agreement, and the Cabinet has said it’s a critical issue. But there are contradictions in the energy policy because of its support by the nuclear power industry and large consumers of energy. Japan has an obligation to not allow efforts to retreat from domestic commitments due to America’s withdrawal, to not wait on America to return to the agreement, and to strengthen its polices to meet the targets of the Paris agreement,” Kiko Network representative Mie Asaoka said in a statement.