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Japan caught napping on emissions curbs
The Asahi Shimbun

With the landmark Kyoto Protocol on global warming finally taking effect today, Japan probably should own up to a major embarrassment: that it may well be unable to meet its obligations under the treaty.

This possibility, suggested by an Asahi Shimbun survey, contrasts sharply with the fanfare that greeted Japan's decision to hold an international conference on climate change in 1997 in Kyoto to set reduction goals.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan has agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions between fiscal 2008 and 2012 by an average 6 percent from the fiscal 1990 level.

The Asahi Shimbun established that only a few prefectural and municipal governments have done anything about it. In fact, a nationwide survey found that only three of the 47 prefectural governments and seven of the 13 major cities can actually boast decreases in their greenhouse gas emissions.

Also, latest statistics offered by about half the prefectural and municipal governments surveyed showed double-digit increases over the fiscal 1990 level in greenhouse gas emissions.

Unlike the central government, prefectural and major municipal governments are not obligated to establish emission reduction goals, and so are still not feeling the heat.

On the other hand, many drew up plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and do away with chlorofluorocarbon replacements.

The Asahi Shimbun asked prefectural and municipal governments about levels of greenhouse gas emissions in their areas in comparison to fiscal 1990.

Okinawa and Akita prefectures recorded increases of about 30 percent in the decade since fiscal 1990. In all, 44 prefectures and five major municipalities recorded emissions increases.

An Okinawa prefectural government official attributed the increase to more automobiles and home appliances owned by local residents.

A Miyagi prefectural government official cited soaring demand for office space in the prefectural capital, Sendai, for the roughly 23-percent hike there.

Even local governments that reported emissions cuts acknowledged that the changes were not due to any particular policy measures being implemented.

For example, an official with the Osaka prefectural government said, ``With our faltering economic base, a number of factories decided to move elsewhere.''

A Kawasaki municipal government official said, ``Basically, it was only by a stroke of luck that some companies were able to reduce their output of products that emit greenhouse gases.''

In most instances, local governments simply pass on information about global warming, or, at best, try to heighten awareness among residents and companies about energy conservation. Whether any reduction can be accomplished often simply depends on efforts made by residents and firms, officials say.

Budgetary constraints also play a role as some regions offer only limited subsidies for installing solar power systems in homes or factories.

Some local governments do not even have programs to reduce emissions.

In the case of the Saitama municipal government, officials never bothered to calculate past emission levels. Plans are now in the works to devise emission reduction goals in fiscal 2005. Officials tried and failed in fiscal 2004 to win budgetary approval to meet that goal.

Two prefectural governments established per capita goals for emission reductions. Miyagi Prefecture has set a goal of cutting per capita emissions by 2.4 percent of 1990 levels by fiscal 2010. Since Miyagi's population is projected to grow in 2010 compared to 1990, overall emissions are forecast to increase by 6.6 percent.(IHT/Asahi: February 16,2005)




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