Mr. Hatoyama’s world debut

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama made a strong diplomatic debut on the international stage Tuesday, pledging that Japan will reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels. The pledge was made in a speech delivered in English at the United Nations Summit on Climate Change, held just six days after his ascent to the premiership.

On Monday, Mr. Hatoyama had met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and expressed his idea of creating an East Asia Community, although the two leaders made no concrete agreement on this matter.

At the climate change summit, attended by leaders from more than 140 countries, U.S. President Barack Obama called on developed nations to lead efforts to combat global warming while stressing the importance of emerging nations playing due roles. He also said the United States will double the generation capacity of renewable energy sources, including wind power, in three years and push projects to capture carbon pollution from coal-burning plants. Earlier, he had announced a U.S. emissions target of returning to 1990 levels by 2020.

Mr. Hu said China will endeavor to cover 15 percent of its needs with energy from nuclear power and renewable sources by 2020, and to reduce “by a notable margin” carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product from the 2005 level, again by 2020. He also called on developed nations to assist emerging nations in the latter’s efforts to combat global warming.

While both Mr. Obama and Mr. Hu made important points, Mr. Hatoyama’s speech appears to have had a stronger impact. He is to be commended for making clear Japan’s readiness to assist developing countries. Besides setting the emissions target, he declared that Japan is prepared to provide more financial and technical assistance to developing countries, especially vulnerable countries and island nations, in their efforts to solve the problems of climate change.

The “Hatoyama Initiative” includes new and additional public and private financing for developing countries; development of rules to facilitate recognition of developing countries’ emissions reductions, especially those achieved through financial assistance, in a verifiable manner; and establishment of a framework to promote the transfer of low-carbon technologies while ensuring the protection of intellectual property rights.

The possibility of a conflict between developing and developed countries should not be ignored. Developing countries call for 40 percent emissions cuts by developed countries. But the latter think that emerging nations such as China and India should set numerical targets for emissions cuts. Japan’s emissions account for only 4 percent of global emissions while the U.S. and China together are responsible for 40 percent.

Mr. Hatoyama clarified that Japan’s commitment is premised on agreement by other major economies on ambitious targets. Still, his pledge of a 25 percent emissions cut and assistance to developing countries could become a catalyst to move negotiations forward toward a global framework for efforts to fight global warming from 2013 — after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Less than three months remain before the start of the 15th conference of parties (COP15) to the Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen to discuss the post-Kyoto framework. Japan should continue efforts to make the negotiations successful.

To achieve this, Japan first needs to make strenuous efforts to meet its own obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. It has to reduce emissions by 6 percent in the 2008-2012 period from 1990 levels, yet its emissions in fiscal 2007 were 9 percent above 1990 levels. The target set by Mr. Hatoyama means that Japan must cut emissions by 30 percent or more from current levels.

In his U.N. speech, Mr. Hatoyama said he will mobilize all available policy tools, including the launching of a domestic emissions trading mechanism, a feed-in tariff for renewable energy and the “consideration” of a global warming tax. An expected increase in financial and other burdens may cause public resistance to Mr. Hatoyama’s plan. He needs to fully explain his plans to gain their support.

In his meeting with Mr. Hu, Mr. Hatoyama said he stands by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s official 1995 apology for Japan’s military aggression and colonialism, a position praised by Mr. Hu. In view of a bilateral agreement on joint development of gas resources in the East China Sea, Mr. Hatoyama said the sea should become a “sea of fraternity.” He complained about what appears to be unilateral action by China in one gas field. Mr. Hu proposed that the matter be dealt with at working-level talks.

It is important that both Japan and China build mutually beneficial and trustful ties. But as Mr. Hatoyama strives to deepen Japan-China relations, he must take care to safeguard Japan’s national interests.