From: Elaine Lies, Reuters
Published May 25, 2007 12:00 AM

Japan Prime Minister's Climate Plan Seen Lacking Teeth

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's proposal to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 has come under fire from critics who say it is ineffective because it avoids binding targets or concrete steps.


Climate change will be a key topic at the June 6-8 Group of Eight summit in Germany, and Abe looks keen to show leadership in drafting plans to extend the Kyoto Protocol on cutting carbon emissions beyond 2012.


Abe's Thursday proposal -- called "Cool Earth 50" -- urges a post-Kyoto framework that includes all major emitters such as the United States, China and India.


He said it should be flexible enough to cope with differences in economic development between nations and be compatible with both economic growth and environmental protection.


But the plan's vagueness, along with the fact that the goal is not binding, has prompted criticism that it aims mainly to court voters ahead of a crucial July election for parliament's upper house.


"Abe hadn't spoken much about the environment before, so I didn't really think he was interested -- but then suddenly he makes this proposal," political commentator Harumi Arima said on Friday.


"He wants to show voters that he's achieving something before the election, and these days it seems that a leader who doesn't talk about the environment is somehow lacking."


Germany has been pushing for G8 members to commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, but the United States -- the world's largest emitter, which has refused to ratify the Kyoto pact -- rejects targets or emission caps for fear they would hurt the economy.


Japan, home to the city that gave the Kyoto Protocol its name, is hosting next year's G8 summit, with the environment expected to be high on the agenda.


Officials termed Abe's plan, which does not specify a base year against which the cuts will be measured, "a vision" of a target that could be widely accepted.


Some analysts praised the plan and said details could wait, but most were sceptical, saying that without concrete steps or binding targets the proposal was seriously flawed, while too much emphasis on flexibility could doom it.


"It's as if they're trying to present something delicious to please everybody, but when you open it up it's rotten," said Tetsunari Iida, executive director at the nonprofit Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies.


"They should set targets, or at least make interim commitments that can be used as guideposts."


The EU, for example, has committed to cut emissions unilaterally by at least 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.


Japanese editorials also said the plan lacked teeth.


"Without anything binding nations, the incentives for businesses to meet targets will be weakened," the daily Asahi Shimbun said. "Binding targets should be the departure point."


The Nikkei business daily said too much emphasis on flexibility and diversity could lead to suspicions that Japan was trying to avoid the kind of binding reductions pledged by developed nations under the Kyoto pact.


Iida said the softness of the proposal was due largely to pressure from Japanese business groups, which have dragged their feet on prior proposals such as a carbon tax.


Japan's target under the Kyoto Protocol is to cut its emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels by 2012, but its actual emissions were 14 percent above its Kyoto goals as of March 2006.


Source: Reuters


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