Environment Minister Shunichi Suzuki on Tuesday officially told the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) of the ministry’s plans to introduce a tax on fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases.

Suzuki met with top Nippon Keidanren officials, including chairman Hiroshi Okuda, in Tokyo.

“Based on the schedule for taking countermeasures to combat global warming step by step, we asked them to understand the need to start working on an environment tax so as to promote a thorough debate on the issue,” Suzuki told a news conference after the meeting.

Suzuki said last week that the Environment Ministry would draft an environment tax plan by the summer, with an eye to its introduction in 2005. His remarks fueled heated debate on the topic within the industrial sector.

The federation has attacked the ministry’s plans, stating that the environment tax should be considered as one of several options — not as the starting point for debate.

“(Nippon Keidanren member firms) have voluntarily reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 3.2 percent from 1990 levels in fiscal 2001,” Hideo Takahashi, director of Nippon Keidanren’s environment, science and technology bureau, told reporters.

Nippon Keidanren drafted guidelines in 1997 aimed at voluntarily slashing carbon dioxide emissions. Takahashi said that voluntary initiatives of this kind should be taken into consideration before launching into a debate over a new tax.

Takahashi added that, amid the stagnant economy, the government should consider the impact a new tax could have on Japan’s international competitiveness, the hollowing out of domestic industries and the nation’s employment situation.

Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change, Japan is required to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

The step-by-step approach stated in the government’s outline divides the time-span between 2002 and 2012 into three periods. The first period — between 2002 and 2004 — focuses on voluntary emissions-cutting maneuvers by various sectors of the economy.

The government is scheduled to review the situation after every phase and plans to implement further measures if necessary.

As the current greenhouse gas scenario is deteriorating rather than improving, experts believe that attaining the 6 percent reduction goal is becoming increasingly difficult.

The ministry thus plans to introduce the tax with the launch of the second phase in 2005.

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