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Japan: Battle Over Climate Credentials
[Analysis] Opposition DPJ pursues more aggressive goals than PM Fukuda's ruling coalition
Hisane Masaki (hmasaki)     Print Article 
Published 2008-01-29 09:23 (KST)   

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Japan's 'Gasoline Diet' in Full Swing

While expressing concerns about a possible sudden revenue shortfall, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's government also argues that Japan will suffer diplomatically by sending a wrong message to the international community about its commitment to fighting global warming if the temporary higher gasoline tax rate is scrapped, especially at a time when the nation is preparing to host this year's summit of the Group of Eight major countries.

Top leaders from the G-8 countries -- the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia and Japan -- are to get together in the Lake Toya resort in the northernmost Japanese prefecture of Hokkaido in early July. Climate change is expected to top the summit agenda. Japan also plans to invite leaders from such emerging economic powers as China and India.

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The fate of the temporary higher gasoline tax, which is to expire at the end of March, has emerged as the biggest issue in the current ordinary session of the Diet, Japan's parliament, which convened on Jan. 18. Fukuda's Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition wants to retain the temporary higher rate, while the biggest opposition Democratic Party of Japan demands the abolition of the temporary rate at a time when soaring prices for gasoline and other fuels are hitting consumers.

As of Jan. 21, the retail price for regular gasoline averaged 153.3 yen (US$1.4) per liter across the country, according to the Oil Information Center, affiliated with the government-backed Institute of Energy Economics, Japan. An expiration of the temporary higher gasoline tax rate could lead to a decline of 25 yen in the gasoline price per liter.

The government estimates that if the temporary higher rates for both the gasoline and light oil delivery taxes are scrapped, use of automobiles will increase, resulting in a rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of 24 million tons a year, or about 1.9 percent of the nation's annual emissions, Japan's Jiji Press news agency reported recently.

Chief cabinet secretary Nobutaka Machimura, the top government spokesman, said at a press conference on Jan. 17 that if the gasoline tax rate is lowered, foreign countries will doubt Japan's seriousness about tackling environmental issues.

Echoing Machimura's view, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura also said at a press conference on Jan. 19 that if Japan takes steps that would encourage gasoline consumption, such as lowering the gasoline tax rate, it will not be able to take the leadership role in international anti-global warming efforts.

It would be fair to note, however, that the DPJ is not anti-environment at all. As a matter of fact, the DPJ is pursuing more aggressive goals than the government and the LDP-led ruling coalition to combat climate change.

The DPJ is preparing to submit to the current session of the Diet, Japan's parliament, a comprehensive anti-global warming bill that would, among other things, set medium- and long-term national greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals and create a "cap-and-trade" mandatory GHG emissions trading system in the nation, similar to one in place in the European Union.

The DPJ decided last May to pursue the goal of slashing emissions of CO2 and other GHGs blamed for global warming by 20 percent by 2020, compared with the 1990 level. But the party is considering incorporating a tougher national GHG-reduction goal in the comprehensive anti-global warming bill. The DPJ also calls for the introduction of an "anti-global warming measure tax" in the future to replace the gasoline and other taxes with provisionally higher rates.

Amid vehement political pressure from Japan's industries, the government and the ruling coalition have so far shied away from setting any medium-term national GHG-reduction target. Government ministries are also in disarray over whether to introduce a mandatory GHG emissions trading system and an environment tax, levied primarily on fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal. The Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), the nation's most powerful business lobby, remains adamantly opposed to both of these measures as well.

Despite its firm commitment to the Kyoto Protocol goal of cutting GHG emissions by 6 percent on average between 2008 and 2012 from the 1990 level, Japan saw its emissions rise 6.4 percent in fiscal 2006, which ended in March 2007, from fiscal 1990, according to preliminary government figures.

As the nation is struggling to reach its Kyoto goal, environment groups are clamoring for the introduction of a mandatory emissions trading scheme and an environment tax, as well as the setting of a medium-term national emissions reduction target. International negotiations are under way on a new pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. This is the slightly rewritten third -- and last -- part of an article that originally appeared on Asia Times on Jan.25.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Hisane Masaki

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