Japan Wrestles with Kyoto Accord Promises The Japanese government says it will meet its Kyoto target, but a steady rise in commercial construction, transportation use and lifestyle changes are steering the rate of carbon emissions in the wrong direction.
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Japan Wrestles with Kyoto Accord Promises

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Japan Wrestles with Kyoto Accord Promises

Japan Wrestles with Kyoto Accord Promises

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Regular listeners to this program know that NPR and National Geographic are taking a year to travel the world. We're finding out how we're changing the world's climate and how the climate is changing us.

This month we travel to the Western Pacific. Japan may make you think about sushi or maybe even the Kyoto Protocol. That's the big treaty agreed to in Japan's former capital a decade ago. Countries around the world pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and Japan promised to take a leading role.

But as NPR's David Kestenbaum reports, Japan is having trouble.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: Officially, Japan has every intention of meeting its Kyoto target. Here's Ryutaro Yatsu with the Environment Ministry.

Do you really think that Japan will be able to meet the Kyoto target?

Dr. RYUTARO YATSU (Counselor, Global Environment, Ministry of Environment): Of course, yes.

KESTENBAUM: And here is Yoshihito Iwama with the powerful industry association, Keidanren.

Do you think Japan will meet the Kyoto target?

Mr. YOSHIHITO IWAMA (Executive Director, Nippon Keidanren): I'm sure.

KESTENBAUM: But on paper the numbers don't look so good. And if you keep asking, you sometimes get a more qualified answer.

Yuriko Koike was the Environment minister. She is now minister of Defense.

Ms. YURIKO KOIKE (Minister of Defense): Well, we are trying our best to achieve our target. And for the time being, it is - it seems to be bit difficult.

KESTENBAUM: Japan's emissions have increased since it signed the treaty. I go over the numbers with Ryutaro Yatsu in his office at the Environment Ministry.

It's hot. His assistant brings in some glasses of iced tea.

Dr. YATSU: According to the latest statistics in 2005, the total greenhouse gas emissions has 7.8 percent increase comparing to the baseline here - 1990.

KESTENBAUM: And according to Kyoto, your target was to be six percent below 1990.

Dr. YATSU: Exactly.

KESTENBAUM: So instead of cutting emissions by six percent, they've grown about eight percent. That adds up to a 14 percent problem.

You might think that if any country could meet its Kyoto target, it would be Japan. The country has a strong tradition of conservation, and Japanese culture places a high value on keeping promises. So it would be politically awkward for the country not to meet the targets it agreed to on its own soil.

What's gone awry? Yatsu takes out some charts, which show some good news. Take big industries - steel, cement, auto manufacturers - taken as a whole, the industrial sector has actually reduced its emission three percent since 1990. But emissions from the commercial sector - things like new office buildings - are up 44 percent.

Dr. YATSU: It's a very difficult task for us because there are so many, many buildings are now constructed throughout Japan.

KESTENBAUM: Japan had pretty low emissions per capita when it signed Kyoto. People tend to live in small houses. There's not a lot of land. And they drive small cars. But now emissions from cars and transportation are up by 18 percent, home emissions up 37 percent. Yatsu said that's because more people are living alone and people have more appliances.

There are limits to what the government can do about that. But it has launched an ad campaign called "Team Minus 6 Percent." The title itself assumes an understanding of the Kyoto Protocol.

(Soundbite of ad "Team Minus 6 Percent")

Unidentified Woman: (Japanese spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Japanese spoken)

KESTENBAUM: This ad features a conversation between a microwave oven and a rice cooker. Take home message? Unplug appliances when you're not using them.

(Soundbite of ad "Team Minus 6 Percent")

Unidentified Woman: (Japanese spoken)

KESTENBAUM: The campaign also urges people to use their own bags at the supermarket instead of plastic ones. You might think that environmentalists would applaud but Lida Tetsunari feels like it's a distraction.

Mr. LIDA TETSUNARI (Director, Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies): It's a nonsense.

KESTENBAUM: Tetsunari directs the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Tokyo. He says the government's campaign reminds me of one from World War II.

Mr. TETSUNARI: During World War II, Japanese people are obliged to prepare for the U.S. Army using bamboo swords, or something like that.

KESTENBAUM: A bamboo sword?

Mr. TETSUNARI: Yeah. So this is kind of the bamboo sword in 21st century.

KESTENBAUM: Tetsunari says Japan needs to get serious about big tough topics like energy policy and invest in ways to generate electricity without generating carbon dioxide. Right now the budget for renewables is small, he says.

Japan does get about a third of its power from nuclear reactors, which don't produce greenhouse gases. The government would like to build more but it's a hard sell here. People are uneasy about it. A big earthquake in July knocked a major reactor complex offline.

Tetsunari says if Japan really wants to meet its Kyoto target, it will have to buy credits from other countries that have cut their emissions. But the costs to offset Japan's eight percent growth in emissions for the five years covered by the Kyoto Protocol?

Mr. TETSUNARI: (Japanese spoken) About eight billion, you know?

KESTENBAUM: Eight billion dollars is a lot.

Mr. TETSUNARI: Yeah, a lot, of course.

KESTENBAUM: There is a sense in some corners here that the Kyoto accord has been unfair to Japan. You hear this from people in business suits and this guy who wears skintight shorts to work.

Mr. NOBUHIKO TAKADA (Martial arts fighter): (Japanese spoken)

KESTENBAUM: Nobuhiko Takada is a famous martial arts fighter. He competes in sometimes violent, extreme-fighting events. Takada is also part of the government's "Team Minus 6 Percent" public relations campaign to get people to be more carbon conscious, but he says he's beginning to despair.

Mr. TAKADA: (Through translator) I now start wondering that if this individual effort has any (unintelligible) or not because I feel as if a huge amount of garbage is flown from the sky when I am cleaning and sweeping very hard. The reason why I think like this is that the developing countries such as China and India - the biggest carbon dioxide emitting countries - also the United States walked away from the Kyoto Protocol, and Canada, such a big country, also has created it.

KESTENBAUM: Takada is built like a superhero but there are limits to what even he can do. He has a kind of signature battle cry he does for fights. I asked if he wanted to do one for climate change. He offered this.

Mr. TAKADA: (Japanese spoken)

KESTENBAUM: Roughly translated: Men of the world who are serious about climate change, come on.

David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

INSKEEP: And you can hear more about Japan's attempts to reduce its carbon emissions later today on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

To see a map showing how climate change is affecting Japan and other parts of the world, just go to npr.org/climateconnections or pick up the current issue of National Geographic magazine.

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