Climate Talks Need All Major Countries, Japan Minister Says

All major countries need to play a role in United Nations-sponsored climate talks later this year in Paris to ensure the integrity of the process, Japan’s new environment minister said.

“The framework for 2020 and after should involve participation by all major countries and should be fair and effective,” Tamayo Marukawa said in a group interview Thursday in Tokyo. “It’s a very important rule-making process and we would like to continue to make that point.”

The appointment of Marukawa was announced Wednesday as part of a broader cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he seeks to revive the economy.

Japan’s commitment to combat climate change will be tested later this year as envoys gather in Paris in December seeking to reach a global climate deal. Japan’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 26 percent by 2030 from 2013 levels has been criticized by environmental groups as too timid.

Marukawa, a 44-year-old former broadcaster, could bring her communication skills to the job, according to at least one academic in Japan.

Main Task

“One main international task will be to show that Japan is still a serious player in climate change,” Andrew DeWit, a political economy professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, said by e-mail.  “Perhaps Marukawa’s impact will be as the personality that helped make Japan visible again in climate policy and politics at a time when all eyes are on China, India, U.S., and Japan seems a sideshow.”

Still, some question whether the new minister has the needed background for the task. Since elected to the Diet in 2007, Marukawa’s political appointments have been largely limited to labor issues, therefore her lack of experience in energy and environmental issues may pose some challenges.

The UN climate talks are the kind of meeting “that requires high-level knowledge even at minister levels,” said Naoyuki Yamagishi, who leads the climate and energy group of WWF Japan. “I am a bit concerned if the minister can exercise leadership immediately after just taking office now.”

At home, Marukawa will need to contend with some of the energy-related issues facing Japan after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. The ministry and others are already moving against coal, while there have been other developments within the ruling party regarding energy efficiency and renewable energy, Rikkyo’s DeWit said.

“Perhaps she may become an effective exponent of these facts that are receiving inadequate attention domestically and internationally,” DeWit said.

Marukawa’s predecessor, Yoshio Mochizuki, began pushing back in recent months at plans to build new coal-fired power plants, saying the projects may threaten Japan’s efforts to cut emissions. Still, the trade and industry ministry has sole discretion to grant building approvals.

“It is important for the environment minister to have the guts to express her opinions to industries,” to put a brake on the increasing number of coal plans, WWF’s Yamagishi said. The minister would also have to exercise leadership in drawing up plans for climate-change measures once an agreement is reached in Paris, he said.

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