Japan Rethinking Kyoto

by William Yeatman on March 18, 2003

Japans industrial sector is beginning to grouse about its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, which the government ratified last year. According to Taishi Sugiyama, a senior researcher at Japans independent Central Research Institute of the Electric Power Industry, industry is putting considerable pressure on the government to rethink the Kyoto Protocol. Apparently, the government is listening.

Japan was one of the last countries to ratify Kyoto, partly due to strong opposition by industry groups and the Japanese Conservative Party, which favored voluntary reductions. But the government also felt obligated to ratify a treaty named for its ancient capitol. Now, nearly a year later, industry has become increasingly resentful of the Kyoto Protocol, said Sugiyama, who spoke to the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. last week.

Now the government is looking ahead to the 2005 negotiations when Kyoto signatories will discuss actions to be taken beyond 2013. Experts, such as Sugiyama, expect that the government will push for voluntary emissions reductions targets. Others disagree, however, saying that it would be very difficult for Japan to back away from the treaty.

Part of the resentment of the treaty comes from the assumptions the government used to determine its ability to meet the targets. For

example, it assumed that cuts in industrial emissions would be accomplished in large part through carbon leakage. In other words, heavy industry would close plants in Japan and open new plants on the Asian mainland, which the affected industries may have been surprised to learn. There was also widespread doubt that Japan would be able to meet its Kyoto targets, a sentiment the government apparently ignored.

Industry leaders also feel that the treaty is unfair. They argue that Japan is the only country that has enacted truly aggressive implementation policies, while the Kyoto Protocol allows European Union countries to buy emissions credits from less industrialized Eastern European countries, thereby avoiding the need for significant emissions reductions. Moreover, the EU has replaced much of its coal-fired capacity with natural gas since 1990, which serves as the baseline year for Kyoto reductions, thereby making the EUs target much less onerous.

Finally, industry argues that Japan made significant emissions reductions prior to 1990, when the government embarked on a tremendously costly twenty-year program to cope with the Arab oil embargo, making the 1990 baseline unfair to Japan. “We have already done much,” said Sugiyama. “Still, Kyoto requires [Japan] to reduce emissions 6 percent. Given that situation, its going to be extremely difficult to reduce emissions further.”

Last October the government organized a committee to revisit the Kyoto agreement. The committee, made up of 30 stakeholders, half of which are industry representatives, will present its findings to the government this month. It is likely, said Sugiyama, that it will call for a new protocol or an amended agreement with a combination of voluntary and mandatory targets (Greenwire, March 6, 2003).

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