Japan Struggles to Meet Its CO2 Emissions Limits Admired for its green living, Japan has trouble meeting its limits for carbon dioxide emissions. Lifestyle changes and industry emissions contribute to the rising CO2 levels.
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Japan Struggles to Meet Its CO2 Emissions Limits

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Japan Struggles to Meet Its CO2 Emissions Limits

Japan Struggles to Meet Its CO2 Emissions Limits

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

CHADWICK: And we're starting today with Climate Connections. This is our yearlong series on how climate changes people and how people change climate. We're continuing, Madeleine, with your trip to Japan where we're learning that even in this country, they struggle with meeting their limits for CO2 emissions. And this is where they wrote the Kyodo Protocol, right?

BRAND: That's right. Yeah. Kyodo, Japan. So we thought it might be a good idea to go to Japan and see how they live. Maybe they could teach us how to live more greenly because compared to the Japanese, we, Americans per capita, we generate twice as much CO2 - 45,000 pounds a year.

CHADWICK: For every single one of us?

BRAND: Each. Yes, each. And the Japanese, they just recycle more. They ride bikes and in general lives small. Take this guy.

Mr. MOTOYUKI SHIBATA (Resident, Japan): Well, my name is Motoyuki Shibata. People call me Moto.

BRAND: Moto teaches American Literature at the University of Tokyo. He and his wife, Hitomi, are greener than most Japanese. They don't own a car. They have a solar panel on the roof. They collect rain water in an old whiskey barrel to water the plants, oh, and they don't use dish soap. They just scrape their dishes and rinse them.

Mr. IKSHIBATA: It works. You don't have any soap.

BRAND: Moto has built a wooden Japanese soaking tub, you know, the kind of you get into only after you've scrubbed yourself thoroughly.

Mr. IKSHIBATA: This is the biggest luxury we had when we built this house.

BRAND: With the bathtub?

Mr. IKSHIBATA: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, yes.

BRAND: Still, his wife Hitomi recycles his bathwater to wash the clothes. She takes a big tube and runs it from the tub into the small washer. Plug it in.

(Soundbite of pumping water)

BRAND: And just like that, the water flow from the tub into the machine.

(Soundbite of water flowing)

BRAND: Okay. That's a little extreme even by Japanese standards, but Moto is like most Japanese in that he doesn't own a clothes dryer. Look outside and you see laundry drying on most balconies.

Mr. IKSHIBATA: You get to see lots of clothes hanging in the daytime here.

BRAND: It's not something you'd see in the United States.

Mr. IKSHIBATA: Right. I don't think so many people own a dryer here, partly because of the space. Space is very valuable.

BRAND: When I went there this summer, I could see this attention to space everywhere. A Japanese-American friend of mine who lived in Tokyo told me he is rarely mistaken for a native. If only because of the way he walks. He walks like an American - arm swinging with a loose gait. Japanese people keep their arms and their steps short and clipped. They have adapted to living in close quarters for centuries. They've developed rituals that celebrate the minimal, such as the 600-year-old tea ceremony.

Ms. MASAKO KONISHI (Resident, Japanese): You purify yourself before you enter the tea ceremony room.

BRAND: Dressed in a creamy, white summer kimono, Masako Konishi agrees to show me the tea ceremony at her home just outside Tokyo.

Ms. KONISHI: The formal one does have a small entrance, so you just crawl...

BRAND: I bring my arms in close, bend down and actually get down on my hands and knees to crawl into the tea ceremony room.

Ms. KONISHI: Tea ceremony is supposed to have a - in a very small place, small room because it comes from warrior times. There is no enemy or opposition. So everyone is the same and equal in the tea ceremony room. So you are supposed to take off all your clothes and all your weapons before you enter the tea ceremony room.

BRAND: So it really is about stripping yourself of extras and just going to the essence.

Outside the tea ceremony room, it is all about the latest electronic gadget. The Japanese are loading up on more appliances. Here in Tokyo's Akihabara district, people come from all over to buy discount big screen TVs, air conditioners, microwave ovens. It's one reason Japan's carbon emissions are increasing.

Since 1990 Japanese household emissions have gone up nearly 40 percent and the Japanese are driving more, especially outside the big cities.

Mr. TETSUJI IDA (Science Reporter, Kyodo News): My friends have a four cars in one household.

BRAND: Tetsuji Ida is a science reporter for Kyodo News.

Mr. IDA: One for dad, one for mom and two for kids.

BRAND: You mean, it's just like the United States?

Mr. IDA: Very much like the United States and so many cars on the street and even in a very small local city, traffic jam is serious.

BRAND: And so the government is trying with this pop song by the girl group Perfume to persuade regular people to conserve energy.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: We're talking about giving up a love for plastic and, yes, personal energy use is growing rapidly says Tetsuji Ida of Kyodo News. But it is not the main culprit.

Mr. IDA: It's a very, very tiny part of national emission.

BRAND: So the biggest part is the industrial part...

Mr. IDA: Yeah, I think that we have the biggest part of the emission is coming from industries. And there's no - now, there is no incentive created by government.

BRAND: Incentives like a cap-and-trade system where companies can buy and sell carbon credits. That's in here in the United States and in European countries. Japanese officials are counting on one incentive we don't have.

Masa Ohara is the environmental policy director for the city of Tokyo.

Mr. MASA OHARA (Environmental Policy Director, Tokyo, Japan): (Through translator) Basically, what happens is that we publicize their name, the company name. And tell, publicly, that they're not (unintelligible). Yeah, this works very well for Japanese.

BRAND: Just publicly shame them.

Mr. OHARA: (Through translator) Yes.

BRAND: It's the same on the national level. I spoke with Kentaro Morita. He's an official with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Kentaro told me corporations have set their own voluntary targets for reducing carbon emissions.

Mr. KENTARO MORITA (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Japan): Once they've committed some target, they will make their best effort to achieve the target without the legal reinforcement.

BRAND: But do you have to rely on simply the goodwill of industry to think the responsibility - their own...

Mr. MORITA: Very Japanese way. It means that all Japanese companies are very responsible for the society. So they - they are very careful about what they viewed by the citizens. It's Japanese culture.

BRAND: It's worked to some extent. Corporations have reduced their emissions by 3 percent from 1990, but still, overall, Japan's greenhouse gas emissions are steadily increasing. They are 14 percent higher now than they were in 1990.

When she's not wearing her Kimono and conducting a tea ceremony, Masako Konishi is working on climate change at the World Wildlife Fund. She says it is absurd to believe Japanese companies will voluntarily reduce their emissions enough to meet the Kyodo Protocol limits.

Ms. KONISHI: What's happening now is some challenge that we human beings never experienced before, so we need new ideas now.

BRAND: And she has one. Well, actually, it's an old idea. A really old idea.

Ms. KONISHI: Why don't we do the Kyoto Protocol conference in a tea ceremony room? Don't you think it's a great idea?


So that we, you know, got rid of all the prize and honors and swords and modern weapons and all the top officials can get in the tea ceremony room and really talk. That might be a very good idea.

BRAND: That is if you could get everyone into the room. The biggest polluters, China, India and the United States have refused to enter it. They haven't signed the Kyoto Protocol. Until they, we, pull our arms in and agree to some limits, there isn't a lot Japan can do to change the world's climate.

For more on Japan and climate change, you can go to our Web site npr.org/climateconnections. And, Alex, you have been busy working on your own series of climate change stories.

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