Yuriko Koike, reappointed as the environment minister, says Japan needs a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The problem of global warming is a pressing situation. (To cut emissions,) I will try to introduce a carbon tax by persuading related ministries and other parties,” Koike said in an interview.

Koike, 52, one of two women in Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s new Cabinet launched on Monday, said she will put priority on a campaign to obtain support for such a tax from people who have so far opposed it.

Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Japan promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. Although the country has since taken steps to promote energy-saving technologies, it is far behind in achieving its target, and fiscal 2002 emissions were 7.6 percent higher than in 1990.

Koike welcomed the Russian Cabinet’s approval of the Kyoto Protocol on Thursday, which is expected to lead to final ratification. With Russia’s endorsement, the long-delayed climate change treaty would finally take effect.

Because it is now likely the treaty will come into force, “Japan must take actions to fulfill the 6 percent reduction that the country has pledged to the world,” Koike said.

A subcommittee of the Central Environment Council dealing with the carbon tax said in an interim report in August that the levy would help reduce consumption of fossil fuels and provide financing for other measures to counter global warming. But no details have been decided yet, partly because of stiff resistance from the business sector.

Koike slammed claims by the business community that the tax would undermine Japanese industry’s international competitiveness and that voluntary efforts by corporations to cut emissions will achieve the reduction target.

At the same time, Koike indicated she is ready to incorporate ideas from the business sector in deciding the details of the carbon tax. The Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), the nation’s most powerful business lobby, said this summer that industries might be able to compromise if the levy is not imposed on importers and processors of fossil fuels, but only on consumers.

“I hope the ministry will hammer out a tax system that people opposing the levy can agree on,” she said.

Since first becoming environment minister, Koike has stressed the importance of balancing economic growth with environmental protection.

This will also be the basis for her new, concurrent job as minister in charge of Okinawa and affairs related to the Northern Territories, she said.

Earlier this month, the government began a seabed drilling study in waters off the Henoko region of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in preparation for building an offshore facility to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan.

While the relocation of the base is necessary to lessen burdens on residents in Ginowan, Koike said construction of the offshore facility must proceed in a manner producing the minimum impact on the marine ecology.

As minister in charge of the Northern Territories, Koike said she will make efforts to increase public interest in the territorial dispute over the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido in the leadup to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tokyo next year for talks with Koizumi.

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