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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 17:28 GMT
Japan cools on climate pact
Japanese woman under umbrella in snow   AP
Unseasonal snow in Japan: Business is getting cold feet on climate cuts
Alex Kirby

Japan is reported to be planning to relax its commitment to tackling climate change.

The Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun says the government plans to let industry choose how far to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

It says it will be hard for Japan to keep its promises to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. The protocol's critics say Japan is in effect abandoning it.

The protocol, signed in the Japanese city of Kyoto in 1997, is the international agreement on reducing the human contribution to climate change.

It requires industrialised countries to cut emissions of the gases which many scientists believe are warming the atmosphere, chiefly carbon dioxide (CO2).

Overall, emissions will have to fall to about 2% below their 1990 levels within the next decade.

The UK's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is among those urging a 60% cut over the next half century in British CO2 emissions.

Receding goal

Yomiuri Shimbun reported: "Domestic measures to reduce greenhouse gases in line with the Kyoto Protocol, which the government wants to ratify early next year, are making slow progress in the face of opposition from industrial and other circles.

Japanese environment minister   AFP
Japan supported UN talks on emission cuts
"The Central Environment Council, a government advisory body, has said in a report that, for now, industries will not be given any regulations to follow and, instead, will be allowed to combat gas emissions on a voluntary basis.

"Prospects are that it will be very difficult for Japan to reduce gas emissions by 6% from the 1990 level as dictated by the protocol.

"Industry, which is responsible for 40% of all emissions, will be asked to devise its own methods to control and publicise the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the first phase of reductions, from 2002 to 2004."

If Japan does miss its 6% target, it will seriously weaken the protocol.

It was badly damaged last year, when President Bush withdrew US support for it.

Japan's intention to ratify the treaty is essential if it is to enter into force: it must be ratified by 55% of signatories, responsible for 55% of industrial countries' CO2 emissions in 1990, before it can take effect.

Between 1990 and 1999 Japan is estimated to have emitted 9,360,000 tonnes of CO2, 3.7% of the global total.

But for Japan to ratify the protocol and then fail to make the cuts it had promised would leave Kyoto's European supporters in the lurch.

Good riddance

A long-standing critic of attempts to tackle climate change is Emeritus Professor Philip Stott, of the University of London, UK.

Smoking chimneys   BBC
Industry fears cuts mean costs
He told BBC News Online: "This sadly was inevitable. The Kyoto Protocol has always been flawed scientifically, but even more so economically and politically.

"I suspect other countries will soon emulate Japan, such as Canada and Australia. The real need is to maintain and to develop strong economies that can adapt to whatever change comes, hot, cold, dry or wet.

"Kyoto undermines this process, especially for the developing world."

Eileen Claussen is president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Washington DC.

She told BBC News Online: "If this report means Japan won't reach its Kyoto target, then that would seriously weaken the protocol.

"But so far it's only a recommendation from an advisory committee, and the government hasn't decided yet.

"We don't think the voluntary approach can work. But we wouldn't write off Japan's ability to meet its target."

See also:

27 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Low probability of ice collapse
24 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
UN to map green energy sites
08 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Climate treaty's 'minimal' impact
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