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Japan's Kyoto Goal 'Within Reach'
[Analysis] Despite government claim, critics doubt the nation can achieve its GHG reduction target
Hisane Masaki (hmasaki)     Print Article 
Published 2008-04-07 11:17 (KST)   
Gasoline price cuts in Japan following the expiry on March 31 of a long-lasting but provisionally higher gasoline tax rate come at a time when the world's second-biggest economy is in hot water over reaching its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction goal under the Kyoto Protocol on curbing global warming.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan must reduce its annual GHG emissions by 6 percent on average between fiscal 2008 and 2012 from the 1990 level, yet its emissions in fiscal 2006, which ended in March 2007, were 6.4 percent above the fiscal 1990 level, according to preliminary government figures. Failure to fulfill its commitment under the treaty would represent an embarrassing loss of face for the nation and deal a serious blow to its clout in the world of environmental diplomacy.

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Under the current Japanese government plan, the 3.8 percent portion of the targeted 6 percent GHG emission reduction under the Kyoto Protocol is to be achieved by carbon "sink" plantation projects at home and the 1.6 percent portion is to be achieved by government acquisitions of emission credits from abroad. The remaining 0.6 percent portion is to be achieved by domestic emission reduction efforts by companies and households.

On March 28, Fukuda's cabinet formalized a revised and strengthened version of the 2005 program aimed at achieving the nation's Kyoto target. The cabinet's formal endorsement of the revised Kyoto program, which includes additional emission reduction measures by industries and others, came only four days before the official start in Japan of the Kyoto Protocol's "first commitment period."

The revised Kyoto program is in line with a final report approved in early February by the joint council of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Environment Ministry, which reviewed the original program adopted in April 2005, two months after the Kyoto Protocol took effect. The revised program contains additional measures that are expected to slash GHG emissions by a total of 37 million tons CO2 equivalent per annum.

The revised Kyoto program calls for the government to check progress on anti-global warming measures included in the program every six months -- in June and December. In fiscal 2009, the government will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of estimates for GHG emissions during the Kyoto Protocol's five-year commitment period.

On the issue of whether to introduce an environment tax, levied primarily on such fossil fuels as oil and coal, and a mandatory emissions trading system, which is already in place in the European Union (EU) and is regarded by some as highly effective in reducing emissions, the revised Kyoto program states that they are "issues that should be considered as soon as possible."

Although government officials say the Kyoto goal is now "within reach" thanks to the additional measures stipulated in the revised program, many critics say the government is too optimistic. The government could be forced to change the program again to take further emission reduction measures or increase emission credit purchases from abroad, due to a possible lack of progress in cutting emissions.

Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita has repeatedly said that if Japan fails to make sufficient progress toward the Kyoto goal, various new administrative measures will become necessary, including the introduction of a mandatory emissions trading system.

The Japanese government only recently began to consider the possible introduction of a mandatory emissions trading system in earnest, after METI and the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) dropped their vehement oppositions. METI has said, however, that any mandatory emissions trading system does not need to be introduced during the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period of 2008-2012.
Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. This is the second part of an article that originally appeared on Asia Times on April 5.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Hisane Masaki

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