Japan dials back climate change emissions target

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

TOKYO (AP) — Japan has drastically scaled back its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, complicating efforts to forge a global climate change pact.

The new target approved by the Cabinet on Friday calls for reducing emissions by 3.8 percent from their 2005 level by 2020. The revision was necessary because the earlier goal of a 25 percent reduction from the 1990 level was unrealistic, the chief government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters in Tokyo.

The new target represents a 3 percent increase over 1990 emissions. Given Japan's status as the world's third largest economy, the decision to back away from the earlier, more ambitious target could be a significant setback for efforts to reach a new agreement at world climate talks now underway in Warsaw, Poland.

Japan had sought to take the initiative on working to prevent climate change but has had to rely more on fossil fuels as all its nuclear plants are offline for safety checks following the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.

To compensate for the lost generating capacity, utilities have ramped up output from coal, oil and gas-burning plants, hampering efforts to reduce emissions from fossil fuels. Manufacturers also have installed diesel generators for backup after experiencing disruptions in the aftermath of March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan that led to meltdowns at the Fukushima plant.

Suga described the previous goal as "completely baseless." The new target may be revised, since it doesn't take into account possible emissions reductions if Japan restarts some of its nuclear plants, he said, as the government is hoping to do.

"We will study our energy policy and then finalize our target," Suga said.

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara plans to explain Japan's stance and seek understanding from other participants at the talks next week.

However understanding they may be over Japan's unique challenges following the 2011 disasters, the initial reaction was of consternation.

"I don't have any words to describe my dismay," China's official Xinhua News Agency cited Su Wei, deputy chief of the Chinese delegation to the climate talks, as telling reporters in Warsaw.