Climate change negotiations are steadily progressing behind the scenes and some subtle changes could portend breakthroughs, reappointed Environment Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said.

Yoriko Kawaguchi

Talks focusing on the Kyoto Protocol, an international climate change accord, will likely dominate Kawaguchi’s time for the next few months, as Japan and other countries prepare to resume climate change talks in Germany in July.

Since the United States said in March it would abandon the agreement and put together its own proposal, Japan and other countries have been struggling to entice it back to mainstream negotiations.

“We need to continue to work on the United States and persuade it” to return to the Kyoto process, Kawaguchi said in an interview, adding that this will not be easy.

There have been some subtle, but potentially positive, changes in Washington in response to the global backlash at U.S. President George W. Bush’s remarks against the protocol, she said.

“Bush and the U.S. government are reviewing their environmental policies and trying to figure out what their positions will be. I think they are taking the review seriously. When President Bush made those comments (in March), I really wonder how far along that review was.”

This is Kawaguchi’s third consecutive term as chief of environment policy, since she was first appointed in July, when the ministry was still an agency. It is the second time a nonpolitician — and the first time a woman — has been appointed to the Cabinet for a third term.

Asked what she expects of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Kawaguchi said she wants him to talk climate change when he meets with Bush.

“Somewhere along the line I expect the prime minister and President Bush will hold talks and I hope he broaches the topic (of the Kyoto Protocol),” she said.

On issues at home, Kawaguchi said she wants to get more input from nongovernment organizations, inject an environmental perspective into public works projects, and increase recycling.

Kawaguchi said she hopes to lay the groundwork for NGOs to be able to present their relevant environment policy proposals and that she plans to continue holding citizens’ meetings around the nation.

“I want to try to further dialogue with citizens. I hope to create a mechanism through which NGOs’ policy proposals can somehow be reflected in real policy.”

The minister will on Wednesday visit Nagasaki Prefecture’s Isahaya Bay, where water quality and seaweed crops have suffered following the construction of a 7-km dike for a controversial reclamation project.

Kawaguchi hopes to come away with a “balanced impression” of the project.

“There are (some public works projects) in which the environment is not satisfactorily taken into account, and it is important to make sure that these, too, incorporate an environmental perspective.”

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