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Planet Ark World Environment News Q+A: How Will Japan's New Govt Tackle Climate Change?

Date: 17-Sep-09
Country: JAPAN
Author: Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO - Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, has pledged to target a 25 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, despite opposition from industry, which says the goal will hurt the economy.

The target, more ambitious than the previous government's, is premised on a deal on goals being agreed by major nations.

Following are questions and answers about the new government's climate policies:

HOW WILL CLIMATE POLICY CHANGE UNDER THE NEW GOVERNMENT?

Hatoyama has pledged to target a 25 percent cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.

That is tougher than the previous government's 2020 goal of emissions 8 percent below 1990 levels for Japan, the world's fifth-biggest greenhouse gas emitter.

Hatoyama's Democratic Party says the tough target is needed for Japan to play a bigger negotiating role at U.N.-backed climate talks in Copenhagen in December so emerging nations such as China and India join a new climate pact that goes beyond 2012, when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends.

But the new government's emissions target faces resistance from industry as Japan struggles to shake off a deep recession. Top business lobby Keidanren is expected to oppose the Democrats' emissions target.

A report by the previous government argued that pursuing a 25 percent cut could hurt industries ranging from power generation, steel and cement firms to car and chemical makers, threatening jobs.

Environmentalists counter that the new target would open the way for new, clean energy industries and boost economic growth in the long term.

Japan's emissions rose 2.3 percent to a record in the year to March 2008, putting the country 16 percent above its Kyoto Protocol target.

HOW WILL THE DEMOCRATS TRY TO MEET THE EMISSIONS TARGET?

The government plans to create a domestic emissions trading market with compulsory volume caps on emitters, although details have yet to be thrashed out. Japan launched a national carbon market last year based on voluntary targets by companies.

The Democrats also plan to introduce a "feed in" tariff, or financial reward, for renewable energy to help expand capacity for clean energy sources and are considering a carbon tax to discourage polluters.

The party is aiming to boost renewable energy sources to about 10 percent of primary energy supply by 2020.

But the Democrats also want to eliminate highway tolls and abolish a decades-old surcharge of about 25 yen (27.5 U.S. cents) per liter on gasoline from April.

Those measures, aimed at easing the financial strain on voters, have been criticized by environmental groups which say they run counter to calls for greener lifestyles.

The abolition of highway tolls and a reduced gasoline tax would boost car traffic by 21 percent and increase carbon dioxide emissions by 9.8 million tonnes a year, according to an estimate by one think tank.

WILL THE DEMOCRATS BE ABLE TO ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS?

Analysts like the party's drive for change but worry about its plans to implement policies that have mass appeal, such as the cheaper gasoline plan, ahead of an election to parliament's less powerful upper house in mid-2010.

Climate change was not a big issue in the August 30 election, with voters more worried about the economy and jobs.

The new government would likely find it harder to introduce a carbon tax, for example, if it drags its feet because industry will have grown accustomed to lower gasoline prices after the party reduces the surcharge in April.

The party also faces a policymaking process that is often slow because ministries pursue different interests, although the Democrats have vowed to reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies.

(Editing by Rodney Joyce)

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