When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes his Group of Eight debut at this week’s summit, he will try to raise Japan’s profile through leadership on global warming and by taking up North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and abductions of Japanese.
More importantly, Abe is hoping that achievements at the three-day summit in the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm, Germany, can lift him out of his domestic slump ahead of the crucial House of Councilors election in July.
One of Abe’s focuses will be the environment, the major topic at the summit beginning Wednesday, with the United States and the Europeans at loggerheads over developing long-term emissions reduction targets.
To pave the way for next year’s G8 summit, which Japan will host in Hokkaido and which also is expected to focus on global warming, Abe hopes to take the lead in forging a consensus on the need for a new international framework to fight climate change from 2013, after the Kyoto Protocol expires.
Abe’s diplomatic clout will be tested as he tries to bridge the gap between Europe and the U.S., Japan’s closest ally.
Ahead of the summit, Abe announced an initiative that calls for the world to cut emissions in half by 2050, in a move that follows the European Union’s March decision on an ambitious plan that major industrialized nations cut carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent to 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels.
But Abe’s plan purposely omits specifying which year should be used as the base year, apparently out of consideration for Washington.
Critics say Abe’s initiative misses the point because it lacks a medium-term strategy and fails to set a clear goal on what Japan should do, especially for the industrial sector, which is responsible for about 65 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions.
“Compared with the European plan, Abe’s is very vague and just full of rhetoric,” said Manami Suzuki, an energy issue consultant for Greenpeace Japan. “What the prime minister is saying is that the world target should be achieved by transferring advanced technology to help developing nations cut emissions. It does not mention how Japan itself is going to meet its reduction obligation.”
Suzuki said Japan could play a meaningful role in persuading the U.S. to agree to the bar raised by the EU, and not the other way around by seeking to water down the European initiative.
On the North Korea-related issues — especially the abductions — he will call for support and cooperation from his counterparts from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the U.S.
A reconfirmation from fellow major powers to continue international pressure on Pyongyang will be important for Abe as he seeks to boost his support at home; his previous popularity was built largely on a hawkish stance against the North.
Drawing attention to the abductions will be a difficult task, as the other G8 nations are more concerned about other issues, such as the U.S.-Russia wrangling over Kosovo, the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Iranian nuclear standoff.
Japanese sources said earlier that while the G8 leaders will denounce North Korea’s nuclear test last October as a “threat to peace and stability” in a summit statement, they are unlikely to directly address the abductions as a “humanitarian concern” — as desired by Abe.
A European diplomatic source said that while all member nations share strong concerns over North Korea’s nuclear proliferation and missile activities, and agree that human rights issues must not be forgotten, the abductions are regarded as only one such humanitarian concern.
Japan will need to lobby much harder if it is to narrow the difference in priority and gain understanding and cooperation from the other major nations, the source said.
Tokyo is wary of growing signs that Washington is softening its stance against North Korea, which would leave Abe in a difficult position.
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