The Hatoyama Cabinet Friday endorsed a basic bill designed to combat global warming. Importantly, the bill specifies middle- and long-term numerical targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions: by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. However, the bill stipulates that the 25 percent reduction is conditional on all other major-emitter nations setting similarly ambitious targets.

Japan is obliged, under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels during the 2008-12 period. Although emissions slowed temporarily after the 2008 financial crisis, fulfilling the obligation will be difficult.

The new bill calls for the promotion of nuclear energy, and the introduction of a carbon tax and an emissions-trading scheme.

The deatils of this last measure are ambiguous. While a total emission ceiling will be set for individual enterprises, the bill leaves room for the ceiling to be calculated on a per-unit-produced basis in some cases. This could lead to the bill’s goals being statistically satisfied, even if the actual amount of emissions rises.

The details of the emissions-trading scheme are to be finalized within one year of the bill coming into effect. Opposition from industries and labor unions on this front is inevitable, but the government must not flinch.

Plans for the promotion of renewable energy are outlined clearly. Under the bill, power companies will be required to buy all electricity generated by renewable energy, at fixed prices. The intent is to have renewable energy account for 10 percent of the nation’s total primary energy supply by 2020. The government wants nuclear energy to play a big part in cutting emissions. It will be important to raise the operation rate of existing nuclear power plants while giving priority to safety.

It is good that the government is acting on these issues, but it should realize the importance of rousing the general public’s interest in creating a low-carbon society. The government should encourage wide public discussion to help it work out effective details for the plans described in the bill.

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