New Minister Presents Fresh Start for Japan at Climate Talks

  • Japan can play role of bridge builder in Paris, minister says
  • COP21 may be chance for Japan at fresh start, campaigner says

Tamayo Marukawa, Japan’s environment minister and a newcomer to international negotiations, says the country can serve as a bridge builder when climate change envoys meet in Paris later this month in a bid to reach a legally binding and universal agreement on climate.

Marukawa, 44, will be tasked with representing a country increasingly painted as a laggard on action at the same time as major emitters such as China and the U.S. unveil ambitious plans to cut emissions.

“We must focus on creating a framework with all countries, especially major emitters such as China, the U.S. and India taking part,” she said in an interview. “Perhaps it is Japan that can bring countries together as we are in Asia and we are a developed country.”

Another important task for the Paris talks is how to come up with a scheme to keep raising targets to tackle climate change, she said. 

“Japan’s role is to bring ideas on how to set up a base which involves all countries,” she said.

Japan Example

Japan has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2030 from 2013 levels, a goal that’s been criticized by environmental groups as too weak.

The Paris discussions, also known as COP21 talks, may present Marukawa with an opportunity to show the world Japan is more progressively tackling climate change, said Hisayo Takada, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan.

“COP21 will provide a great chance if the minister is really serious about climate change,” she said. “Japan can get a fresh start under her with new perspectives.”

Marukawa, who was appointed to her current role last month by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a cabinet reshuffle, finds herself with the delicate task of overseeing a ministry charged with setting Japan’s climate policy, while at the same time some in Japan, including leading industry figures, urge caution.

Sadayuki Sakakibara, chairman of Japan’s largest business lobby Keidanren, has stressed that any new global framework at Paris shouldn’t neglect national interests. Sakakibara has asked the minister to take into account Japan’s economic revival and growth when setting environmental policies, the chairman told reporters after meeting with the minister earlier this month.

Long-term Goals

Japan is the fifth-largest emitting country. The country’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the 2011 Fukushima disaster forced utilities to turn more to fossil fuels such as coal and gas to make up for idled and lost nuclear capacity.

Before being elected to office in 2007, Marukawa was a broadcaster for TV Asahi in Tokyo. Her appointment comes as Abe pushes to promote women’s roles in the workplace and society.

Married to another lawmaker, Taku Otsuka, Marukawa has said climate change is an issue that requires long-term thinking.

“Our children will still be around in 2100, and that’s the perspective we need to remember,” the mother of a 3-year-old son said during a group interview in October.

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