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Japan Says It Will Ratify Kyoto Protocol

by Suvendrini Kakuchi

Without U.S., Climate Talks Push On
(IPS) TOKYO -- Japan is set to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to curb global warming following consensus on the treaty reached at the UN climate talks in Morocco Nov. 13.

"We will begin full-fledged work for concluding the Kyoto Protocol in 2002," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told a meeting of the Global Warming Prevention group Nov. 13.

Green groups welcomed Japan's latest decision, pointing out that Tokyo was dithering before the Nov. 10 deal that was agreed on by 167 countries at the meeting in Morocco's southern city of Marrakesh.

"The turnaround in Japanese official policy was expected," says Noriyuki Hata, spokesman for Kikko Forum, a leading non-governmental organization promoting the reduction of harmful greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and cause global warming.

While Koizumi did not use the word "ratification" in his speech, Environment Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi told a news conference later that the word Koizumi used -- "conclusion" -- includes that concept, saying it is "the general term used to express commitment or the acceptance and implementation of a treaty."

"We will begin full-scale work towards the next regular Diet session to prepare and establish systems needed for the approval and conclusion of the Kyoto Protocol," she told reporters.

The 150-day regular Diet session is scheduled convene in January.

The Japanese Diet is currently debating Tokyo's commitment to its global warming reduction target, to six percent less than 1990 levels by 2012.

Naoki Matsuo, expert at the Institute of Global Warming Strategies, a private thinktank, says the major focus in the debate sessions is developing domestic laws that will pave the way for emission trading mechanisms to help in carbon dioxide reductions.

"Japanese companies want the recently concluded climate change conference to provide incentives such as trading mechanisms and other measures. The Japanese government is keen to pursue this angle," he explained.

The Kyoto protocol commits developed countries to cutting emissions of greenhouses gases by an average of five percent from the 1990 levels by 2012.

A major concern for the Japanese government now is how to bring the United States, the world's biggest polluter, back to the accord after the Bush administration turned its back on the Kyoto Protocol, saying it was against America's economic interests.

Activists say the decision by European countries to throw their weight behind the Kyoto protocol forced Japan to go along despite its deference to the United States position.

Kawaguchi told reporters Japan will continue efforts to bring the United States to the negotiating table.

"I think it is very important that we deal with this issue under a single rule," she said. "Setting that as a goal, we will continue urging the U.S. government to take a constructive attitude."

Japanese companies argue against ratification without the participation of the United States.

Keidanren, an association of Japan's largest business conglomerates, has said Japan's ratification pledge will undermine its international competitiveness.

Some business leaders are calling for another framework agreement that promotes less stringent targets for carbon dioxide emissions. But green groups say they are confident Japan can achieve its reduction target provided the government enacts and implements important environment protection laws aimed at capping emissions.

"If the government acts decisively to control carbon dioxide emissions, then it must bring in new laws and taxes to control greenhouse emissions," Hata says.

Kawaguchi said she was aware of the opposition from the business sector to the introduction of new green taxes. "There is opposition, but we must urge them to understand this from the point of view that the global environment is important," she told reporters.

Activists are calling for a tax on fossil fuels such as coal, which is currently not taxed and thus an attractive energy source in Japan. They are also urging a global warming prevention tax on cars.

Hata explains that recent Japanese technology breakthroughs have pointed the way for a reduction in global warming. For example, household appliances are now equipped with devices to control greenhouse gases and use less energy, he said.

A Kyoto University research team said a tax on coal could discourage the use of coal-fired boilers, thus help cut carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile, efforts should be made to promote the use of natural gas.

Activists also believe that Tokyo's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol will encourage Japanese companies to increase funding for renewable energy sources.

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Albion Monitor November 19, 2001 (

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