Empty Rhetoric or Attainable Targets?

Business - November 6th, 2009

by Darrell Nelson

Looking at Japan’s Renewed Emissions Reduction Commitment

With the Copenhagen talks looming large on the horizon and the new ruling party in Japan committing to cut CO2 emissions by 25 percent of 1990 levels, the squeeze may soon be on for many industries here looking at any way they can lessen their ecological impact in order not to be heavily taxed, but how much of a road plan does Hatoyama and his cabinet have? The new, and far more ambitious, targets set by the new administration and welcomed by green parties and sustainable pressure groups are seen in a far more critical light by some industrial lobbyists, as they could “threaten to hinder output and raise taxes against us,” accord- ing to the head of a large manufacturing company, “especially at this criti- cal time deep in recession.”

After a record high emissions output in 2008, Japan has certainly seen more international pressure to step in line with other developed coun- tries in leading the world to ‘greener pastures.’ Hatoyama stepped up and answered this, however he encountered stiff opposition from industrial sectors. Opponents comment that as Japan is already a largely energy effi- cient industrial nation, the 25 percent commitment is totally unrealistic. “I don’t think Mr. Hatoyama realizes what he is committing Japan to,” said Tsutomu Toichi, managing director at the Institute of Energy Economics, a Tokyo-based research group, in a recent interview in the New York Times. “He has to realize that this is not a campaign slogan. It’s an international pledge to which Japan will be held accountable.” Here lies the rub: cynics could easily play the new commitment off as nothing more than an election tactic that paid off but lacks any realistic qualities.

Certainly as environmental problems invade modern life more and the voting public is bombarded daily by images of polluting factories and stories of global warming from the media, we have seen emissions pledges from all angles in a bid to get elected. A notable example was President Obama in his inaugural speech, promising to bring climate policy to the forefront after “years of neglect by the Bush administration.” As Roger Pielke, a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences at University of Colorado, put it, “Countries have turned to designing very complex policies full of accounting tricks, political pork, and policy misdirec- tion.” The truth is that if we want to see real, hard action in reducing any type of emissions, there must be viable alternatives to which industries can turn. Whether this means cheaper access and production of alternative energy sources or bigger incentives from governments, it’s clear that simply buying carbon credits form an underdeveloped country doesn’t stretch that far in the grand scheme of things. Real cooperation between the developed and developing nations such as China and India is also critical.

Previously an easy scapegoat to why a certain country may or may not be pledging emissions cuts, China has recently started to turn the tables, promising a huge focus on solar energy and alternative sources. “In recent months, China and India have responded to this finger-pointing by present- ing projections of their future emissions that show that they have already transformed their economies to support rapid economic growth with very low carbon dioxide emission,” comments Pielke. This means that as these countries actually put plans into action, the Western world and Japan are left with no more excuses or fingers to point. In a recent article I expressed a need for a ‘hero’ to rise up and carry Japan forward; Hatoyama seems to talk the talk, but time will tell whether or not he can actually walk the walk.

External Link:
The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan