It sounds as if Japan is telling the world that it cannot do much to cut its greenhouse gas emissions unless it revives its nuclear power generation. The government says its new goal for reducing the nation's greenhouse gas emissions — which aims at a 3.8 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2020 but allows for a 3.1 percent increase from the 1990 levels — is the best it can pledge as long as prospects for restarting Japan's nuclear power plants remains low.

The new target set by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe underscored the nation's reliance on nuclear power generation — which in theory emits no carbon dioxide — as a means of combating global warming, while efforts to cut carbon output in various sectors of the economy and increase use of renewable energy have made little headway. The government reportedly plans to review the new target — which has been widely criticized as a major setback in Japan's position on climate change — as it discusses plans for the nation's new energy mix. But what it needs to do is to explore ways for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that will not depend on the use of nuclear power.

The new target replaces the one set in 2009 by the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 25 percent from 1990 levels, which assumed that the share of nuclear power in Japan's electricity generation would increase to 40 percent in 2020. That scenario was shattered by the March 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Today none of the nation's 50 nuclear reactors are online and the gap in power supply is being filled by thermal power generation using fossil fuels.