Japan’s decision to weaken carbon emissions target a ‘slap in the face’ to poor countries.
In 2009, Japan pledged to cut its carbon emissions by 25 percent based on 1990 levels within 11 years. Four years later—including a nuclear meltdown at Fukushima—and Japan has reset its goal with a new target to cut emissions by 3.8 percent based on 2005 levels at the UN Climate Summit in Warsaw, Poland. But, the new target, which received widespread condemnation when announced on Friday, actually results in a 3.1 percent rise in emissions when viewed from the widely-accepted 1990 baseline.
“The new target is based on zero nuclear power in the future. We have to lower our ambition level,” said Hiroshi Minami, Japan’s delegate at the 19th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Since the meltdown at Fukushima, Japan has shuttered all 50 of its nuclear power plants and largely turned to importing fossil fuels to make up the difference. Before Fukushima, nuclear power made up nearly a third of Japan’s energy mix, and the country had expected to push that even further; while the Japanese government still hopes to reopen some of its nuclear power plants, there is no timeline in place.
Despite Japan’s nuclear issues, many nations were quick to criticize the world’s third largest economy for backtracking so far.
“The announcement represents a huge step backwards in the global effort to hold warming below the essential 1.5-2 degrees celsius threshold, and puts our populations at great risk,” reads a statement by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group of 44 island-states that are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts. “This is neither the time nor the place to be backtracking on commitments. Developed countries have committed to taking the lead and must do so as we work to peak global emissions this decade and ink a new global agreement in 2015.”
An anti-nuclear power rally in Japan. Photo by: Public Domain.
In fact, an analysis by Climate Action Tracker, a group of independent scientists, found that the closing of Japan’s nuclear power plants couldn’t account fully for the drastic shift in Japan’s pledge. According to them, even if Japan replaced all of its nuclear energy with coal—the world’s most carbon intensive fuel source—the country could still hit a nine percent CO2 emissions reduction by 2020.
Japan is the world fifth largest CO2 emitter and is generally responsible for around 3-4 percent of global CO2 emissions. Until now it has largely been viewed as one of the most ambitious wealthy nations in terms of climate action, but its move on Friday won it the little-coveted Fossil of the Day, an award that goes to the nations viewed as most obstructive at climate talks.
“To add insult to injury [Japan] is trying to hide weak ambition behind strong rhetoric,” writes the Climate Action Network which gives out the ironic awards.
But the strongest condemnation came from Kelly Dent with Oxfam, who called Japan’s new goal “a slap in the face for poor countries who are right now struggling to cope with changes to their climate, and who will face yet more extreme and unpredictable weather in the future.”
Japan’s announcement comes close on the heels after Australia revealed it was also weakening its target. Observers at the meetings say this backtracking by wealthy countries could threaten to undercut progress in Warsaw even as the meeting has been overshadowed by the destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The Filipino delegate, Naderev ‘Yeb’ Saño, has gone on hunger strike at the meeting until “until a meaningful outcome is in sight.”
Typhoon Haiyan was the most intense tropical storm to make landfall yet recorded. Scientists say climate change is likely to increase the intensity (including both wind speed and rainfall) of tropical storms due to warmer sub-surface seas, and may already be doing so. In addition, rising sea levels means greater storm surges with correspondingly more damages and loss-of-life.
Nations worldwide have pledged to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but experts say we are moving too slowly to make good on this goal. In recent years, there has been a constant call for nations to make deeper emissions cuts by scientists, UN officials, and the most vulnerable countries.
(11/18/2013) In October, a global risks analysis company, Maplecroft, named Bangladesh the world’s most vulnerable nation to climate change by 2050. The designation came as little surprise, since Bangladesh’s government and experts have been warning for years of climatic impacts, including rising sea levels, extreme weather, and millions of refugees. However, despite these very public warnings, in recent years the same government has made a sudden turn toward coal power—the most carbon intensive fuel source—with a master plan of installing 15,000 megawatts (MW) of coal energy by 2030, which could potentially increase the country’s current carbon dioxide emissions by 160 percent.
(11/15/2013) The mighty polar bear has long been the poster child for the effects of global warming in the Arctic, but the microscopic diatom tells an equally powerful story. Diatoms are a type of algae that form the base of the food chain in watery habitats the world over. Disturbances among lake diatoms have exposed the impacts of rapid warming in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of eastern Canada, researchers reported Oct. 9 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B
(11/14/2013) For many concerned about climate change, Australia has suddenly become the new Canada. With the election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister in September, the land down under has taken a sudden U-turn on climate policy, including pushing to end its fledgling carbon emissions program which was only implemented in 2012 and cutting funding for renewable energy. These move come at a time when Australia has just undergone its warmest 12 months on record and suffered from record bushfires.
(11/13/2013) In 2011, the top 11 richest carbon emitters spent an estimated $74 billion on fossil fuel subsidies, or seven times the amount spent on fast-track climate financing to developing nations, according to a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute. Worldwide, nations spent over half a trillion dollars on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
(11/12/2013) Yesterday, the Filipino delegate to the ongoing climate summit, Naderev ‘Yeb’ Saño, dared climate change deniers to take a hard look at what’s happening not just in the Philippines, but the whole world. Over the weekend, the Philippines was hit by what may have been the largest typhoon to ever make landfall—Typhoon Haiyan. Reports are still coming in days later, but the death toll may rise to over 10,000 with whole cities simply swept away.
(11/11/2013) Following the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan—which is arguably the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall—Filipino delegate, Naderev ‘Yeb’ Saño, has vowed to go on a fast at the UN Climate Summit that opened today in Warsaw, Poland. Saño made the vow during a powerful speech in which he said he would fast, ‘until we stop this madness.’
(11/11/2013) On October 22nd Bangladeshi and Indian officials were supposed to hold a ceremony laying the foundation stone for the Rampal power plant, a massive new coal-fired plant that will sit on the edge of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. However, the governments suddenly cancelled the ceremony, instead announcing that the project had already been inaugurated in early October by the countries’ heads of state via a less-ornate Skype call. While the governments say the change was made because of busy schedules, activists contend the sudden scuttling of the ceremony was more likely due to rising pressure against the coal plant, including a five-day march in September that attracted thousands.
(11/11/2013) While many of the world’s national governments move tepidly (if at all) to combat climate change, cities are showing increasing leadership. The San Francisco Bay Area’s Air District Board signed off last week on a measure to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent within less than 40 years time as based on 1990 levels. The measure follows the same goal as an executive order made by California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in 2005.