Japan Calls US Emissions Plan a Bold Step Away From Coal

Japan said the U.S.’s proposed cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions from its power plants is a bold step to tackle climate change.

“There are many states that are dependent on coal power,” environment minister Nobuteru Ishihara said at a news conference in Tokyo after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released plans to cut emissions from power plants by an average of 30 percent from 2005 levels. “We hope the U.S. will make progress toward the EPA targets.”

The stance by Japan, which watered down its own targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, is in contrast to the European Union’s view that the U.S. must do more. The decision announced by the EPA in Washington yesterday is the most comprehensive climate-protection plan yet from President Barack Obama’s administration.

“All countries including the United States must do even more than what this reduction trajectory indicates,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in a statement from her office in Brussels yesterday.

The EPA’s program starts to set in place policies the U.S. will bring to discussions this year of 190 nations on how to limit pollution after 2020. While it gives Obama ammunition to show that other nations also need to act, the limits set out by the EPA cover only about a third of emissions by 2030.

Climate Talks

Envoys to the climate talks organized by the United Nations intend to make an agreement next year that would apply to all nations instead of just the rich industrial ones.

Japan’s ability to deal with emissions is complicated by the shuttering of the nation’s 48 operable nuclear reactors in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima accident. Without nuclear reactors, Japan relies on fuels such as oil, gas and coal for almost 90 percent of its electricity generation, compared with about 60 percent before Fukushima.

Japan is the world’s fifth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, according to the International Energy Agency.

A resource-poor Japan is pushing for the development of coal plants that emit less carbon dioxide. The country has been criticized for funding coal plants abroad. In April, when Obama was visiting Japan, non-governmental organizations requested that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discuss ending public financing for overseas coal power projects.

Environmentalists urge Japan to come up with concrete policies of their own.

Clean Energy

“With this proposal in the U.S., there will be various efforts to boost clean energy and energy-saving measures turning away from coal,” Hisayo Takada, a Greenpeace Japan climate and energy campaigner, said by phone today. “It will be damaging for Japan’s industrial competitiveness if wrong policies kill Japan’s opportunities.”

The U.S. plan may lead to more focus on nuclear energy, said Tom O’Sullivan, the founder of Tokyo-based energy consultant Mathyos. “It no doubt should be taken as a positive by the nuclear industry, the fact that this is quite an aggressive policy,” he said by phone.

Australia, while welcoming Obama’s program, said countries will follow their own paths. The Liberal-National government in Australia, which has the largest per-capita fossil-fuel emissions among rich nations, aims to kill off the world’s highest emission tariffs brought in by the prior Labor administration.

‘‘We welcome constructive action to cut emissions,” the office of Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in an e-mailed statement. “Each country can play its role but no single model will suit every country. The U.S. is taking its own approach and we respect that.”

The U.S. achieved carbon cuts by boosting energy generated from natural gas, his office said. Australia has pledged to cut emissions from its economy 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020. That would mean a 12 percent reduction from a 2005 baseline.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

Lead image: CO2 emissions via Shutterstock

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