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.


  1. Well at least the very efficient Japanese can still purchase carbon credits from very inefficient Poland.

  2. Dr. Pielke, as you hint in your 360 paper, symbolism is the brush stroke of politics. The painters will continue creating commissioned art work so long as grants are allocated to produce a certain style of painting. Politics/Policy is not looking for the truth, it only wants reinforcement by those vested and invested in the mantras. The key, of course, is always to time the impact of reality until the next politicos take power who will argue they can only solve the problem if they have more centralized power.

  3. One more thought, you advocate for the 450 goal. How is that any less symbolism as respects climate change?

  4. Adding to Craig's comments: If a new analysis of the data suddenly showed a maximum of 1.5 C rise by 2100 the funding would dry up.

  5. Japan has had a long history of trying to minimize fossil fuels since they are mostly imported. The rest of the developed world would run into Japan's dilemma in decarbonizing. Once you eliminate the obvious/cheap sources the next incremental is very expensive.

  6. If one watches the Kabuki Theatre, I mean politics in the UK, they've tried wind, ruled out solar, now with heavy heart they have announced 10 new nuclear plants as the 'only answer'.

    Sometimes indulging the magical thinking of various groups is the only way to shift opinion sufficiently.

  7. Somebody needs to write http://www.withouthotair.com/ for Japan.

  8. EIA has numbers for them. http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/Japan/Background.html and http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/country/country_energy_data.cfm?fips=JA

    It looks like if they were willing to expand nuclear and renewals at the expense of coal they could make some headway.

  9. MIKE MCHENRY said... 8

    "It looks like if they were willing to expand nuclear and renewals at the expense of coal they could make some headway."

    One 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant produces rougly 7 terrawatts/hr of electricity per year. The Japanese make about 600 terrawatts/hrs a year from fossil fuels.

    9 nuclear plants doesn't get one far down the road when what they need are 90 nuclear plants.

    One would think it an easy discussion when they are 100% dependent on imported fossil fuels.

  10. Harrywr2 #9

    20% Comes from coal, 13% nuclear and 1% from renewable per EIA. If you eliminate coal you make a substantial CO2 gain. If I get my watts right that doesn't seem undo-able. You need to bring nuclear to 33%.

  11. If the technological innovations we keep hearing about irt nuke power bear fruit, the outcome could be a surprising agreement between AGW believers and skeptic:
    CO2 emissions could be curtailed, pollution levels could be reduced, footprints of all sorts from power generation could be reduced, and high quality power at reasonable prices could result.

  12. Gullible Friedman of NYT has one of his silly articles on start technologies he likes. Why he calls the one on carbon capture CLEAN is lost on me. It's rough and tumble industrial chemistry.

  13. Mike,

    50% of coal usage(and resulting CO2 emissions) in Japan is from Steel Production. That doesn't show up in the electricity numbers.

  14. #12,

    There's 0.01 moles of Ca/kg sea water. So to absorb 44 grams of CO2 (12 grams of carbon), one needs at least 100 kg of sea water. Gee, that sounds practical. (/sarcasm)