Japan will try to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from 2005 levels as its midterm target for 2020, Prime Minister Taro Aso announced Wednesday, claiming the goal is bolder than those put forward by Europe and the U.S.

Government officials say a 15 percent cut from 2005 is the equivalent of an 8 percent reduction from 1990 levels.

The government had originally aimed for a 14 percent cut, but Aso added a percentage point after Environment Minister Tetsuo Saito pushed for a more aggressive target.

The final figure means Aso has put more weight on global environment concerns than the demands of Japan’s industry.

Holding a news conference in the early evening, Aso defended what he called an “ambitious” target.

“We must impose a certain level of burden on the public over this midterm goal,” Aso said. “But that is the cost of protecting the Earth. Japan must be prepared to tackle the global warming issue with this firm resolve.”

A government study panel proposed six options for the 2020 emissions target ranging from a 4 percent to 30 percent reduction from 2005 levels.

While Saito urged Aso to aim for a 21 percent to 30 percent cut from 2005 levels, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshihiro Nikai argued that the government should set the target with caution, taking into consideration the financial burden on the nation.

Business and labor leaders had been seeking a mere 4 percent cut, given the prospect that a higher reduction goal will hammer industries already struggling under the recession.

“I took the proposals (from business and labor) seriously,” Aso said. “But we must lead the world in the ‘low-carbon revolution.’ To do this, shouldn’t we take a step forward and double our efforts?”

The European Union’s reduction goal is 20 percent compared with 1990 levels, which Aso said translates to a 13 percent cut if 2005 were used as the base year. U.S. President Barack Obama said he will aim to bring the greenhouse gas emissions level down to 1990 levels by 2020, which means about a 14 percent cut from 2005 levels, according to Japanese officials.

Aso stressed, however, that he will engage in international negotiations to ensure the target doesn’t place Japan at a disadvantage.

“International equity is also important,” Aso said. “If stringent obligations are imposed on Japan alone, companies and factories will move to other countries with lighter commitments.”

The government already revealed its long-term goal, when Yasuo Fukuda was prime minister, of trying to cut emissions by 60 percent to 80 percent by 2050. On a global level, the Group of Eight leaders agreed last summer to halve emissions by 2050.

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