Prime Minister Taro Aso has announced that by 2020 Japan will try to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 15 percent from 2005 levels. He characterized this midterm plan as “ambitious” since it means a 33 percent improvement in the nation’s energy efficiency.

Financial burdens will rise for industrial as well as household sectors. For example, it is estimated that the introduction of carbon-free power sources, such as nuclear and solar power, will increase each household’s annual burden by ¥60,000 to ¥180,000.

While a 14-percent cut from 2005 levels was believed to be a strong candidate as the midterm target, Mr. Aso opted for the more severe cut. He says Europe’s target translates into a 13 percent cut and America’s, a 14 percent cut, from 2005 levels. He emphasized that Japan’s plan excludes purchase of emission rights from abroad and absorption of carbon dioxide by forests, devices that the Europe and the U.S. plans include.

Even so, Japan’s plan may not be appreciated internationally since 1990 is a benchmark in the Kyoto Protocol. Japan’s target translates into an 8 percent cut from 1990 levels, compared with Europe’s target of a 20 percent cut or more. The U.S. aims to bring emission levels back to 1990 levels by 2020 even as its population is projected to rise by a whopping 33 percent from 1990 to 2020.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan was obliged to achieve a 6 percent reduction in the fiscal 2008-2012 period from 1990 levels. But fiscal 2007 saw Japan’s emissions increase to a level 9 percent above that level — a performance that casts doubts over Japan’s seriousness in combating global warming and in reducing its reliance on fossil fuels.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls on the developed nations to cut emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels. With its present target, Japan may find it difficult to lead international negotiations for new global efforts to cut emissions. Starting serious efforts at home to build a low-carbon society will be important. The government should present a clear vision and policy measures for technological innovation and structural change of the economy.

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