06 March 2010

Japan is Struggling on Emissions Policy

The Financial Times has an interesting, but not entirely surprising, article on Japan's emissions reduction policy proposals:

Japan is struggling over how to meet the government’s ambitious promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade.

The cabinet on Friday delayed until next Friday a decision on a bill covering emissions trading, carbon taxes and other green measures, after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama complained that it was “in danger of being pummelled” by industry groups and their allies. Failure to reach agreement next week would delay the bill until parliament reconvenes after elections in July.

Opposition to the proposal threatens a central plank in Mr Hatoyama’s agenda. His Democratic party pledged in its successful election campaign last year to cut carbon emissions by a quarter from 1990 levels by 2020, which tripled the previous government’s target. Mr Hatoyama has since repeated the pledge at the UN and the Copenhagen summit on climate change.

Mr Hatoyama has been careful to say that Japan will follow through on his pledge only if the US, China and other heavy emitters agree to “fair” carbon curbs of their own. But the caveat has not satisfied critics in energy-intensive industries such as electricity and steelmaking.

Japan already has the world’s most energy-efficient industrial economy and business leaders say achieving Mr Hatoyama’s reductions would be difficult, expensive and damaging to international competitiveness.

The government itself is divided over how to proceed. Masayuki Naoshima, industry minister, said on Friday: “There is a problem with the way the government has put this bill together … We need to collect a broader range of opinions.”

Mr Naoshima told the Financial Times last month that Japan should focus its efforts to cut emissions on developing new environmental technologies rather than rushing to introduce mandatory carbon trading or other burdensome measures.

On Friday he indicated his support for an industry proposal to cap greenhouse gasses as a proportion of output, instead of in absolute terms, a change environmental activists say would weaken any carbon trading system but which would correspond to China’s approach to limiting emissions.

Of particular note is that the opposition to the proposals of the Hatoyama government cross political lines:

It is not only industry that stands in the way of Mr Hatoyama’s goal. He has also been handicapped by his coalition partners in the Social Democratic Party who have blocked proposals to include expansion of Japan’s nuclear power industry in the climate change legislation.

Other groups have also expressed concern. Trade unions, a key Democratic constituency, fear tough emissions curbs would drive more manufacturing jobs overseas.

Of course, readers here would have known that the Japanese plan was in for some difficulties based on the simple math of decarbonization, as I described in this paper last year (full text, correct Figure 2). That paper was completed in the aftermath of the historic August, 2009 election when incoming Prime Minister Hatoyama had suggested departing from the mamizu proposal of his predecessor for an approach far more aggressive, proposing a 37% reduction in emissions (from 2005 levels) by 2020 rather than the 15% proposed by his predecesor. At that time I wrote:
Regardless of the nature of changes to the composition of the Japanese government in the future, there is considerable merit in encouraging Japan to actively seek to achieve its Mamizu climate policy because its successes and shortfalls will provide a valuable body of experience to other countries seeking to achieve similar goals. Should Japan choose to depart from its proposed Mamizu climate policy to one based on (even more) impossible targets and timetables than they may find themselves the subject of international applause rather than condemnation. At the same time such a shift would signify a desire to meet the symbolic needs of international climate politics while sacrificing the practical challenge of decarbonization policy.
For those paying attention, there are shared lessons telling a coherent story about the fate of climate policies in the United States, Japan, Australia, Great Britain and elsewhere.