The world's fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter, Japan once vowed to cut its emissions by a full 25 percent by 2020. But its new government, facing a post-Fukushima country in which all nuclear plants have been shut down, has revised that number way down -- to just 3.8 percent. That's a small reduction from 2005 figures, but a three percent increase from emission levels in 1990.
The announcement at the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, casting a pall over efforts to reach an international agreement on emissions reductions. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group of 44 low-lying nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, released a statement saying: "[We] are extremely concerned that the announcement represents a huge step backwards in the global effort to hold warming below the essential 1.5-2 degrees celsius threshold."
"Japan's dramatic U-turn on its emissions target commitments is a slap in the face for poor countries who are right now struggling to cope with changes to their climate," added a spokesperson for Oxfam.
Detractors are calling the new goal "unambitious," among other things, while Japan's environment minister, Nobuteru Ishihara, countered that 25 percent by 2020 “was unrealistic in the first place.” Without nuclear power, which once provided 30 percent of the country's power, Ishihara said, "anyone doing the math will find that target impossible now.” Renewable projects, including Japan's much-lauded new off-shore wind turbine project, which began generating power just this week, are apparently not yet up to the task of filling the deficit.
"I do have some understanding that Japan has been hit by several catstrophes in the past few years," said Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), referring most prominently to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima nuclear reactor and led to the subsequent shutdown of the country's 50 nuclear plants.
Others were less sympathetic. "This decision is a gross negligence of its responsibility and should be revised in line with the level that science and justice requires," said Naoyuki Yamagishi, WWF Japan's climate and energy group leader.
Added to the other less-than-ambitious efforts of countries participating in the talks, Stuart Neil, senior director of external relations and communications for the World Energy Council, told the New York Times that “even in the best-case scenario, there will be a doubling of CO2 emissions by 2050.”