by Darrell Nelson

Some of the most important talks for our future were recently held over in the quiet German city of Bonn: the United Nations negotiations on climate change. The world was watching to see which of the industrialized nations would stand up above the rest, but how did Japan fare? 

A fierce debate has been raging in Japan for a while now about what kind of an emissions reduction target should be put on the table for the Bonn talks. A recent and highly authoritative analysis of global emission reduction needs published in Nature magazine showed that large industrialized nations like Japan will need to reduce their emissions, on average, by around 40 percent from 1990 levels in the next decade, to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Japanese government examined options ranging from a relatively respectable 25 percent cut, to a frankly disgraceful suggestion of no cut at all. A report published by Japan For Sustainability, an NGO that provides environmental information from Japan to 191 countries, found that almost two thirds of the Japanese public were willing to go for the biggest cuts, because they know the urgency of the climate crisis. Ms. Junko Edahiro, a chief executive of JFS and a member of the Prime Ministerial Advisory Panel on Climate Change, commented pre-Bonn based on the results of the survey that, “both developed and developing countries expect to see some leadership from Japan. By setting the right targets, Japan has the chance to show leadership not only in technology, but also in setting and realizing emissions reduction targets.”

But in response to this mandate from their people, the Japanese delegation announced just an eight percent reduction target. They announced it to other delegates, and to the media, in a room from which NGOs were excluded. We can only presume this was because some rich countries did not wish to have the shocked response of civil society groups beamed immediately around the world. “Japan’s announcement to reduce its emissions by only eight percent by 2020 completely lacks ambition and stands in the way of a fair global deal, which should save the world from the catastrophic impact of climate change,” said Christian Teriete from WWF. “Aso delayed the announcement of his country’s midterm target, confusing and holding up other countries which were trying to set an overall goal for greenhouse gas emissions of industrialized states.”

There is only one rational response to the announcement, if you care about the natural world, and that’s outrage. Japan seemed to completely fail in showing the leadership Edahiro said the people were looking for. Referring to Japan’s target, which is far below the 25–40 percent cuts suggested by climate scientists for the year 2020, U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said he was speechless. “For the first time in two and a half years in this job I don’t know what to say,” he told reporters.

Perhaps it’s a tall order to ask our government to be the ones to bridge the gulf between real climate needs and actual climate ambition—and even harder to ask them to be honest about the size of that gulf to an anxious population. But, these are desperate times, and in desperate times, we look for heroes. Certainly, we needed them in Bonn.

Sustainable Business is no longer an option, but a necessity, to stay ahead in the market. The Anaheim University Kisho Kurokawa Green Institute, located in Minami Aoyama, Tokyo, currently offers one of the largest selections of sustainable courses available, including MBAs, Diplomas, and Green Certificates in Sustainable Management. For more information see or contact [email protected] for an information session. Darrell Nelson is the International Liaison Office Director for the Kisho Kurokawa Green Institute.