Japan May Re-Examine Carbon-Reduction Pledge After Atomic Crisis

Japan may re-examine its pledge to cut greenhouse gases by 25 percent after an earthquake and tsunami damaged a nuclear power plant, disrupting the country’s ability to generate power with low emissions.

“We will consider, we will debate everything,” Akira Yamada, deputy director-general for global issues at the Foreign Ministry, said today in an interview during the United Nations climate talks in Bangkok. “If we consider the 25 percent target, it is one of the things. We have not decided, we don’t know the direction. It’s too premature.”

Japan, which has virtually no domestic oil and gas resources, made the pledge last year for a one-quarter cut in its emissions by in 2020 compared with 1990 levels as part of UN climate talks. Some 42 industrialized countries and 48 developing nations have so far submitted their emission-reduction targets or plans as negotiators worldwide try to iron out a new legal framework for when climate-protection provisions of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012.

Japan’s energy strategy assumed the country would pursue nuclear power plants, Yamada said.

“The impact of the earthquake and tsunami on the nuclear power industry is very big, very deep and very longstanding,” he said. “But it is premature for us to assess how large an impact it is on our economy and energy policy. We have to discuss, we have to review.”

The Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant damaged by the tsunami and the earthquake on March 11 generated almost 10 percent of the energy of the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo and about a third of Japan’s 127 million people.

More Costly

Cutting greenhouse gas blamed for climate change would be more costly without nuclear energy, Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said today in Paris.

The government estimated last month that damage from Japan’s strongest earthquake on record to be as much as 25 trillion yen, or 0.5 percent of the country’s economy, the world’s third-largest after the U.S. and China.

“We are very much ready to discuss, debate, over what kind of energy policy we will take,” Yamada said. “We have to increase the share of renewable energy, but the simple calculation does not allow that all the nuclear power can be replaced by renewable energy, simply because of the area coverage in Japan is very small.”

‘Every Effort’

Japan, which pledged under the Kyoto Protocol to trim emissions by 6 percent by 2012 from 1990 levels, will make “every effort to fulfill” its commitments, according to Yamada. The country has been in the past years among leading buyers of the Assigned Amount Units, or emission rights used by countries to comply with their Kyoto targets.

The climate treaty allows polluters emitting more than they pledged to buy emission rights from those nations that pollute less. They can also use for compliance the so-called offsets, including credits generated for emission-reduction projects under the UN Clean Development Mechanism. The CDM is the world’s second-biggest carbon market.

Analysts including Emmanuel Fages at the Paris-based Orbeo said last month that Japan may declare force majeure on the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol to prevent additional costs of buying emission permits.

“By looking at the actual emissions data and the credits acquired and the CDM activities, we are in almost at the level to achieve the first commitment period,” said Masaru Moriya, adviser to the Minister of the Environment, in an interview today. “We need to see the next year also so that we can make a final judgment on the compliance.”