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Japan's reduced emissions target a setback to COP19 climate change negotiations
by Takver - Climate IMC
Friday Nov 15th, 2013 6:58 PM
Japan, the third largest single economy, has announced in the Warsaw climate change negotiations a change in it's voluntary pledge emissions target to change from a 25 per cent emission cut on 1990 levels to a 3.1 per cent increase on 1990 levels by 2020.
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"This move by Japan could have a devastating impact on the tone of discussion here in Warsaw. It could further accelerate the race to the bottom among other developed countries when the world needs decisive and immediate actions to "raise" ambition, not to "lower" ambition." said Naoyuki Yamagishi, leader, Climate and Energy Group, WWF Japan in a media statement at the climate talks.

Prior to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident in 11 March 2011, nuclear power provided about 30% of electricity generation in Japan. Currently all 50 nuclear power plants are shut down for significant safety checks. But Japan has also been increasing coal use over the last two decades, a trend ocurring even before the Fukushima crisis. The increase in coal use as a cheap fuel since 1990 has resulted in the equivalent of 12 per cent of 1990 emissions.

Japan's target in the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was -6% compared to 1990. The latest emission data in 2011 from Japan showed it was +3.7% above 1990.

According to WWF Japan's report Energy Scenario Proposal for Decarbonizing Japan, 100% renewable energy by 2050 is technically feasible and it is possible to reduce energy-related emissions of CO2 by 25% by 2020.

A Climate Analytics spokeperson, Marion Vieweg who works with the Carbon Tracker program, said this change in targets by Japan is significant as it increases the global emissions gap that was just released recently by 3 to 4 per cent. She said in a media conference at COP19:

"We also looked into how much of the changed target can be attributed to the nuclear shutdown and according to our analysis this can only be a very small part of the reduction in ambition that we see. If we were to replace all nuclear production that is envisaged by 2020 with the current fuel mix that we have including fossil fuels and renewables, we would still get to a target of minus 17 or minus 18 per cent below 1990 level. Certainly that explains part of the adjustment of the pledge or of the target, but not the majority."

Ms Vieweg also highlighted the dynamics of the announcement by Japan to substantially lower it's targets, "We are at a moment, a crucial point in time for this negotiation process where we are discussing targets for after 2020 and countries are expected to put ambitious pledges on the table very soon. So this is a sign going in the wrong direction, and we are also still struggling in this process to increase ambition before 2020, to actually close the gap that has been identified. Certainly this announcement is absolutely a step in the wrong direction." she said.

The voluntary pledge process was also criticised by Ms Vieweg, "It does point also to a structural question of this negotiation process where we see that the bottom up approach to pledges as we've seen since Copenhagen might not be such a good model if pledges can be dropped at will by any country at any point in time. I think that gives an important lesson in the ongouing negotiations in this process."

Japan's announcement was also heavily criticised by civil society groups in Warsaw. Wael Hmaidan, Director of CAN International said in a statement, “Japan's new targets are outrageous. This will have a serious and negative impact on the negotiations. Withdrawing from climate action is like a slap in the face of those suffering from the impacts of climate change such as the Philippines.”

Japanese Climate Action Network spokesperson, Kimiko Hirata “Stopping nuclear power is not a legitimate reason for lowering their target. There are countries putting ambitious targets shifting their energy source from nuclear to renewables.”

At the press conference on November 15 a special Fossil of the Day ceremony was held for Japan. The citation read:

Today, Japan slashed its 2020 emission reduction target - with the new pledge equating to a 3.1% INCREASE in pollution from 1990 levels. The UNFCCC is about negotiating to raise the level of climate action, so this must be a bad joke!

In 2009, Japan announced an emissions reduction of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. We urge all Japanese delegates to read the IPCC report and do their math again and reconsider their commitment to this prehistoric target. The new target is a backwards step compared to Tokyo's pledge in the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which was -6% from 1990.

How is Japan expecting to contribute to raising the international level of ambition if the third largest economy says it can only increase their emissions? To add insult to injury, it looks like Japan, who has contributed to the climate crisis and has the means to contribute to solving it, is trying to hide weak ambition behind strong rhetoric. There are no excuses, we know you can do better. We don’t want nuclear power and don’t want climate change. Please reconsider and come back with target that is really ambitious!


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