Japan finds a little to crow about

Hatoyama team happy getting U.S., China on board and what it means for future efforts


COPENHAGEN — The political agreement on climate change formally recognized Saturday has been roundly condemned, but the Japanese government sees it as a diplomatic achievement for including China and the United States, the two largest emitters, and paving the way for a future framework to reduce emissions.

“We had two major goals for this negotiation, which is to create a framework in which the U.S. and China as well as other major emitters participate, and to set up a structure where we can provide financial support to developing countries who are in dire need,” Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa said Saturday. “As far as these two elements are concerned, we’ve mostly been able to accomplish them.”

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s participation in the process of drawing up the accord Friday with a limited group of nations was also significant because he played an important role in the international community, Ozawa said.

But nothing in the new accord is legally binding. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said that while the accord may not be what everyone had hoped for, it is an important beginning. Negotiations to establish a framework that will force parties to commit to reducing emissions are to continue at the U.N. climate change meeting next year in Mexico.

Japan’s pledge to reduce emissions 25 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels is one of the loftiest targets among the developed countries that acknowledged the accord.

And the administration’s pledge to provide ¥1.3 trillion between 2010 and 2012 to support developing countries is the biggest commitment among nations that have so far made short-term financial support promises.

“I have received very harsh criticism from the industrial sector, but when I think about the Earth, it is my belief that Japan, as a developed country, should take responsibility,” Hatoyama said.

Robert Orr, assistant to the U.N. secretary general for policy planning, said Hatoyama’s speech at the U.N. on Sept. 22, where he announced the bold emissions target, sent a clear message to other leaders that Japan was committed to fighting climate change.

During the two weeks of the climate conference, Japan’s efforts also received support from unexpected quarters that were highly critical of other developed countries.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo praised Japan’s willingness to take on targets in line with what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended in 2007 as the minimum targets for developed countries.

But whether Japan was effective in getting its message out to the international media is questionable. Press briefings were done mainly for the Japanese media, even though some 3,500 journalists from all over the world were working at the Bella Center. Other major emitters held numerous news conferences.

But lawyer Mie Asaoka of the group Kiko Net Japan said if the Hatoyama administration really wants to take the lead in forming a legally binding mechanism next year, it needs to get to work on legislating a domestic mechanism to reduce emissions.