TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions rose last year, government data is set to show, underscoring the huge challenge the government faces in meeting its targets under the Kyoto Protocol climate pact.
Data for the year through March 2008, expected to be out possibly as early as next week, may raise fresh questions about the government’s reliance on voluntary steps to curb emissions. It is also likely to accelerate buying of U.N. carbon offsets by the world’s fifth-largest emitter to meet its Kyoto obligations.
The pact, named after the country’s ancient capital where it was signed, states that Japan must cut its emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and a suite of other greenhouse gases to 6 percent below 1990 levels between 2008-12.
But the data will probably show last year’s emissions rose 2 to 3 percent to around 1.38 billion metric tons due to the closure of the country’s biggest nuclear power plant, analysts say, putting total national emissions almost 10 percent above 1990 levels.
The rise comes after a 1.3 percent fall in the year to March 2007 to 1.34 billion metric tons. Japan has a Kyoto target of 1.186 billion metric tons.
Developing nations are already questioning Tokyo’s political will to contain emissions to fight global warming. They fear rich states are not following through on pledges to combat climate change in talks that aim to agree at replacement for Kyoto at the end of next year.
The only saving grace for Japan, at least in the short term, may be the global credit crisis and a looming recession, which will help cut emissions as factories cut production.
But analysts say that will only be temporary, with IMF forecasts in October of an economic recovery toward 2012, the last year of the current Kyoto commitment period.
“Nobody hopes a slowdown will continue. They want the economy to get back to a recovery path, and if the economy recovers, emissions here will rise if we stick to the existing plans,” said Naoki Matsuo, CEO of Climate Experts Ltd, Tokyo-based advisors.
Harufumi Mochizuki, Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, said at a climate conference this week he was optimistic about Japan’s meeting the minus 6-percent target.
“But it is for sure that (Japan) should buy a certain, fair amount of carbon offsets,” he added.
Japan’s CO2 emissions from energy production rose 2.7 percent in the year ending in March totaling 1.218 billion metric tons, the government said last week. Energy-related carbon emissions account for nearly 90 percent of the country’s overall greenhouse gas pollution, meaning total emissions last year are expected to be well beyond 1.34 billion metric tons in the previous year.
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Rising emissions were largely due to the closure of the world’s largest nuclear plant after an earthquake in July last year. Japanese utilities have been forced to use more coal, gas and oil to make up for the nuclear power shortfall.
Restarting the big nuclear plant, owned by Asia’s biggest utility, Tokyo Electric Power Co, could reduce Japan’s CO2 emissions by 30 million metric tons a year, according to an estimate TEPCO President unveiled in an interview earlier this year.
No date has been set for the plant to resume operation.
“Coal has been chosen to diversify energy sources. But now is the time to reduce its usage and switch to renewables,” said Naoyuki Yamagishi, head of climate change program at WWF Japan.
Corporate voluntary emissions curbs do not have the legal backing and strict monitoring seen in Europe, but the government plans to review this in autumn next year.
Major Japanese polluters, such as utilities and steel companies, have resisted government emission caps or carbon taxes, arguing past efforts helped improve energy efficiency.
Japan is now about twice as efficient as Europe and the United States in terms of primary energy supply per gross domestic product, a way to gauge energy efficiency.
Tokyo also launched a trial over-the-counter market to trade emissions last month and this scheme is set to begin in 2009 as applications for the first year will be closed in December.
The faster Tokyo makes tweaks to the plans, the less costly, more credible and easier they are to implement, analysts say.
The government and big corporations have been active in buying U.N. carbon offsets called CERs to meet Kyoto obligations.
The government has also been buying large amounts of a cheaper Kyoto offset called AAUs from former Soviet bloc countries. But many of these emissions are less directly linked to verifiable emissions reductions projects in Eastern Europe and are therefore less credible.
Supply of CERs cannot meet all the demand from the 37 developed countries bound to Kyoto’s first phase to 2012, said Aimie Parpia, carbon analyst at London-based New Carbon Finance.
“Given that Japan still has a material shortfall with a tighter fiscal budget, the government may be more inclined to purchase AAUs for compliance.”
Among other immediate issues to consider are ways to make buildings more energy efficient and how to take in more power from renewable energy sources.
“We need change for the Japanese economy. Let’s weave into the economic system new climate measures now, and we’ll make them work in a long term,” WWF Japan’s Yamagishi said.
Additional reporting by David Fogarty; Editing by David Fogarty and Jonathan Leff