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Japan Goes on Air Spending Spree
[Analysis] The nation is rushing to buy emission rights to reach its Kyoto Protocol goal
Hisane Masaki (hmasaki)     Print Article 
Published 2007-12-03 03:38 (KST)   
Increasingly feeling the heat over the Kyoto Protocol on curbing global warming, Japan is going on a spending spree to buy rights from around the world to emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

With the clock ticking toward the start of the United Nations treaty's "first commitment period" of 2008-2012, more and more dark clouds are hanging over Japan's commitment to reach its protocol goal.

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Although Japan must reduce its annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 6 percent during that period on average from the 1990 levels, its emissions in fiscal 2006, which ended on March 31 this year, were 6.4 percent above the fiscal 1990 levels, according to preliminary government figures released recently.

In a desperate bid to reach its Kyoto goal, both the nation's government and businesses are rushing to land emission rights, or credits, through the "Kyoto mechanisms."

Under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is designed to help industrialized countries meet their reduction targets, firms from industrial countries can earn emission credits in return for GHG-reduction investments in developing countries and count them as cuts in their own emissions -- and in turn, in their countries.

The two other Kyoto mechanisms are Joint Implementation (JI) and emissions trading. JI is similar to the CDM, but it covers GHG-reduction projects in industrialized countries that can afford to cut more gases than required by the protocol, such as Russia and other former Soviet republics and Eastern European countries. The emissions trading system allows countries to buy and sell credits between them.

The Japanese government has so far approved about 250 CDM and JI projects that are expected to reduce GHG emissions by a total of over 100 million tons CO2 equivalent per annum. Well over 90 percent of the government-approved projects are CDM ones. Some of these GHG-reduction projects have already been registered with the United Nations.

In mid-November, Japan became the first nation to link its national registry to the international transaction log (ITL) being managed by the secretariat of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The ITL allows emission credits generated through CDM and JI projects to be electronically transferred into national registries, which administer the holdings and transfers of credits.

Japan's link with the ITL has made it possible for account holders in the Japanese national registry to file applications for emission credits transfers among themselves. International emission credits transfers are also expected to become possible in early January next year, when Japan expects to become formally eligible to participate in the Kyoto mechanisms. Among other industrial countries, New Zealand and Switzerland are also expected to link their national registries with the ITL by the end of this year. The European Union's link with the ITL is also expected sometime next year.

Japan's businesses, already among the world's largest credit buyers, plan to increase their purchases further. The nation's two major CO2 emitting industries, electricity and steel, for example, have announced recently they will significantly increase their credit purchases, to a total of 164 million tons CO2 equivalent. The Finance Ministry also said recently that the government alone might have to spend up to 1.2 trillion yen (US$10.9 billion) on credits.

To be sure, Japan boasts of the world's most energy-efficient economy and is proud of the fact that the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated and born in the nation's ancient capital just a decade ago. But failure to fulfill its commitment under the treaty would not only represent an embarrassing loss of face for the nation but also deal a serious blow to its clout in the world of environmental diplomacy.

The issue is particularly sensitive for Japan because the world's second-largest economy wants to take the leadership role in efforts to establish an effective international framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. A key U.N. conference is to be held for 12 days starting on Dec. 3 in the Indonesian resort island of Bali, formally kicking off negotiations on the post-Kyoto framework.

Japan will host an annual summit of the Group of Eight (major countries in the Lake Toya hot-spring resort in its northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido next July, at which the post-Kyoto climate pact will be high on the agenda. Tokyo plans to invite leaders from other major CO2 emitters, such as China and India, to the summit.
Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. This is the first part of an article that originally appeared on Asia Times on Nov. 30. Three more parts will come later.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Hisane Masaki

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