links about us archives search home
SustainabiliTankSustainabilitank menu graphic

Follow us on Twitter


Posted on on May 27th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

The Japan Times online, Tuesday, May 27, 2008, ANALYSIS of the Kobe meet of Environment Ministers.

Kobe saw discussion but no accord: Environment chiefs do manage to take stand against plastic bags.

By ERIC JOHNSTON, Staff writer, Japan Times online

KOBE — Group of Eight environment ministers held their weekend summit in Kobe hoping, in vain, to emerge with a strong commitment by developed nations to agree on greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2020.

They had also hoped their message would influence the July G8 summit in Hokkaido and provide momentum in the global quest to forge a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement by December 2009. Instead, the ministers emerged with a document saying reducing the use of disposable plastic bags and other consumer products is a good idea.

“The purpose of the G8 environment ministers summit is not to negotiate agreements. The purpose is to provide a forum for discussion,” Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita said at the beginning of the conference.
He added that he was happy the ministers agreed to a line in the chairman’s summary about efforts by Japan and other economies to reduce the use of disposable plastic bags.

The emphasis at the summit was to avoid delicate subjects like midterm emissions-reduction targets, said Scott Fulton, an official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To that extent, focusing on gestures that are less grand and politically difficult may indeed be useful, a word used over and over again by those ministers disappointed at the outcome.

Plastic bags aside, the outcome was not without potentially positive outcomes on a larger scale, at least on the political and diplomatic fronts.

The long-term goal of at least halving global emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 received a degree of unprecedented support and was welcomed by all developed and developing countries present at the Kobe conference.

Scientifically, however, the decision looks less grand.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s most prominent body of global warming experts, warned last year that developed countries should cut greenhouse gas emissions by between 80 percent and 95 percent by 2050 if they want to prevent a global warming catastrophe.

More significantly, perhaps, for Japan’s efforts to play a leading role in formulating a new climate change treaty is that for the first time it clarified its position to the international community on the sectoral approach.

Japan clearly stated that its idea of greenhouse gas reduction targets for different industrial sectors was not a substitute for nationally binding targets, as some feared, but instead one method of calculating what those national targets should be.

On midterm goals, the ministers noted the importance of concluding negotiations by December 2009 on a post-2012 framework in line with the Bali Action Plan, which, in the footnotes, recommends greenhouse gas reductions of between 25 percent and 40 percent for developed countries by 2020.

The ministers also called for effective midterm targets that take into account the IPCC findings.

For their part, the 2008 Japan G8 Summit NGO (nongovernmental organization) Forum, the umbrella organization for NGOs involved with the July G8 summit, gave the Kobe meeting mixed reviews.

They were disappointed that the ministers did not go further and include specific mention of the Bali targets, although they welcomed the general mention of the need for midterm targets.

It remains to be seen if the midterm targets in the Kobe statement, which marked the first time since the Bali conference that the G8 has officially mentioned such goals, will be agreed on by the leaders in Hokkaido.

Japan had to walk a fine line when drafting the language of the chairman’s summary, as the United States and other countries remain opposed to any midterm targets that do not include the major emitting economies.

As expected, the agenda item that proved the least controversial, and therefore the most welcomed by the G8 ministers, was the “3R” agenda of promoting reducing, reusing and recycling.

This includes eliminating the use of plastic bags, part of an overall effort to promote environmentally sound waste management techniques in both developed and developing countries.

Also: Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Kobe meet fails to set 2020 goals: Achieving progress too tall an order.

Staff writer
KOBE — Environment ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations ended a three-day meeting in Kobe on Monday united on the need for a long-term goal of at least halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

But the meeting ended in bitter disappointment for those hoping for a clear commitment to medium-term reductions, as the ministers failed to support specific emission reduction targets for 2020, as recommended last year by an international body of global warming experts.

“Last year, the G8 leaders agreed to seriously consider reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2050. Strong political will was expressed to go beyond this agreement and reach agreement on a shared vision of long-term global goals at the G8 Hokkaido summit,” said the chairman’s summary.

It added that developed countries should take the lead in achieving a significant reduction.

But setting medium-term goals has left developed and developing countries — as well as the G8 members themselves — bitterly divided, and virtually no progress was made toward this goal.

A new climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, is to be hammered out in Copenhagen by December 2009.

Environment ministers from Britain and Canada expressed a sense of urgency in Kobe about moving forward toward a medium-term reduction target agreement by then.

In February 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommended reduction commitments from developed countries of between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020.

A United Nations conference in Bali last December called on developing countries to take “measurable, reportable and verifiable” climate change mitigation actions in a post-Kyoto treaty. But at the Kobe meeting, the ministers agreed only to consider the IPCC report’s recommendations.

“The need was expressed for effective midterm targets which take into account the findings of the IPCC,” the chairman’s summary said.

Going into the environment ministers summit, Japan had faced criticism from the international community for not working harder to get all of the G8 to agree on the need for medium-term reduction targets. It was also criticised for not taking the lead by announcing its own national targets in line with the IPCC recommendations.

Germany, for example, has national legislation in place to reduce emissions by nearly 40 percent by 2020, while the European Union has called for a 20 percent reduction by 2020.

“We need long-term and midterm reduction targets, as well as national action plans to achieve those targets,” said German Environment Minister Matthias Machnig at a news conference Monday morning.

Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita said that despite the IPCC recommendations and the looming deadline in December 2009 for a new climate change treaty, more study is needed.

“For midterm reduction targets, the important issue is how to take the IPCC knowledge into consideration to come up with a viable target. At this point in time, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to cite specific figures at the negotiation table,” Kamoshita said.

In addition to climate change, the ministers agreed that governments should come up with national action plans and implementation strategies to protect biodiversity.


Also: Saturday, May 24, 2008

G8 COUNTDOWN: Status quo may block climate pact: G8 campaign faces political hurdles, noted activist, Yurika Ayukawa warns.

By ERIC JOHNSTON, Staff writer, The Japan Times online.
KYOTO — A weak prime minister, a divided bureaucracy and opposition from big business mean Japan’s ability to use the July Group of Eight Summit at Lake Toya to forge an effective global warming treaty is at risk, a leading environmental activist warns.

“Over the past six months, Japanese proposals for a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty on the environment have met with stiff international opposition at conferences in Bali, Bangkok and Japan,” said Yurika Ayukawa in a recent interview with The Japan Times. “Time is running out, and we’re very worried Japan will not exercise leadership on the environment at the G8 Summit.”

Ayukawa is vice chairwoman of the 2008 G8 Summit NGO Forum, an umbrella organization of about 130 nongovernmental organizations working on poverty and development, peace and human rights, and environmental issues.

One of Japan’s most prominent environmental activists, Ayukawa has been meeting with Japanese officials involved in climate change issues and with politicians who are pushing for Japan to take the lead on forging a new climate change treaty to replace the Kyoto pact, which expires in 2012.

But she said Japanese industry, including the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), is proving to be a major roadblock to reaching the kind of tough emissions-reductions targets most climate change experts say are needed to slow the rate of global warming.

“Keidanren opposed the Kyoto Protocol and many powerful corporate types don’t want Japan to be bound by numerical targets under a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty,” Ayukawa said. “Because of pressure from politically powerful industries, especially the steel industry, and because Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is politically weak and the Diet is divided, Japanese negotiators for a new protocol are constrained on what they can promise.”

At last year’s U.N. climate change conference in Bali, it was agreed that developed countries would take measurable and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation actions, including quantified emissions-reduction objectives.

But developing countries are only obliged to take nationally appropriate actions under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” between developed and developing countries.

Developing countries, including China and India, remain opposed to any agreement that forces them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a specific amount, while developed countries, notably the United States, insist a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty must include measurable emission-reduction standards for developing nations, which are large greenhouse gas emitters.

To bring China and other nations onboard a post-Kyoto treaty, Japan has suggested what’s known as a sectoral approach. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year, Fukuda proposed that numerical greenhouse gas-reduction targets be set based on how energy-efficient various industrial sectors are.

“The target could be set by compiling on a sectoral basis energy efficiency as a scientific and transparent measurement, and tallying up the reduction volume that would be achieved based on the technology to be in use in subsequent years,” Fukuda said.

But the vagueness of the concept itself has increased Ayukawa’s concerns.

“The sectoral approach is extremely complicated. There are differences between countries on what the phrase industrial ‘sectors’ really means. Unless there is a thorough discussion between all parties as to what, exactly, the term refers to, it will be impossible to reach an agreement.”

Yet such a discussion will no doubt be time-consuming, and the deadline for a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty is rapidly approaching, as it was agreed in Bali last year that an accord should be reached by the end of 2009, she said.

In Davos, Fukuda also said Japan will, along with other major emitters, set a quantified national target for greenhouse gas emissions-reductions. If that is the policy the government intends to pursue, Ayukawa said, it will likely be a bone of great contention.

“The phrase ‘major emitters’ includes China and India, and has made them wary of Japan’s proposals, as they fear agreeing to it will lock them into specific numerical targets that they oppose,” Ayukawa said. “Japan and the other advanced countries have a responsibility to lead the effort to forge a new climate treaty, and they need to take the lead by setting tough numerical targets.”

Japan’s NGOs are hoping to meet with Fukuda prior to the July G8 summit in Hokkaido to raise the above concerns, Ayukawa said. Fukuda may also have a separate meeting with international NGOs.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008, SENTAKU MAGAZINE, as reported on The Japan Times online.
Tycoon aims to speed up politics: Business tycoon Hiroshi Okuda is said to be meeting frequently but secretly with leading figures of both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the No. 1 opposition Democratic Party of Japan, apparently with an eye to reorganizing the political landscape after general elections expected in the not-too-distant future.

He is gravely concerned that his country might become isolated in the international community if the Diet remains “twisted” — with the LDP-led governing coalition holding a two-thirds majority in the Lower House and the DPJ and other opposition parties holding a majority in the Upper House. Legislative bills initiated by the government have been blocked.

Okuda, the former CEO of Toyota Motor Corp. who served as chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), has long been known to have close relations with political leaders, who often have turned to him when in trouble.

As recently as March, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda asked Okuda to succeed Toshihiko Fukui as governor of the Bank of Japan. If he had accepted the offer, his nomination could well have been approved by both houses of the legislature and he would have become the first head of the central bank with a manufacturing background. Okuda declined, and Fukuda named two former Finance Ministry bureaucrats in succession. Both nominations were rejected in the Upper House, creating a temporary vacancy in the top central bank post.

Under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Okuda, as a member of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, gave wholehearted support to Koizumi’s thoroughgoing “structural reform” agenda, which included privatizing the postal services. It is no wonder that intimate relations have developed between the two and that Koizumi relied on Okuda on a number of occasions.

Okuda appeared to have gone into retirement after handing over the chairmanships of Nippon Keidanren and the Industrial Structure Council to Canon Inc. Chairman Fujio Mitarai. Nippon Keidanren, meanwhile, had ended its 10-year moratorium on making contributions to political parties, a decision that pleased the LDP, which was suffering from fund shortages.

Politicians’ reliance on Okuda revived after a series of actions taken by Mitarai proved unpopular. In February, Prime Minister Fukuda bypassed Mitarai and named Okuda to head a council to deliberate on the key issue of global warming ahead of the summit meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, to be hosted by Japan in July.

It appears that whatever Fukuda accomplishes with the advice of Okuda could have a major impact on his own government.

Why is it that Okuda enjoys so much trust from leading political figures? One reason is that he still wields much influence over the Toyota group, whose annual profits reach ¥2 trillion. Both the governing and opposition parties hope to receive political contributions through initiatives from Okuda and Toyota. Numerous corporations in Japan are looking for business opportunities with the Toyota group, whose yearly global turnover is in the ¥25 trillion range.

Mitarai is said to have followed Okuda’s advice: that companies making big profits should not hesitate to raise employee wages. This, coupled with Canon’s decision to give full employee status to temporary workers, has restored public confidence in him.

At a news conference in February, Mitarai said Japan should open dialogue with the European Union on how trading rights to greenhouse-gas emissions can reduce carbon dioxide. This is a drastic departure from the “absolute opposition” that Nippon Keidanren — whose principal members are from the electric power, steel and other industrial segments — had taken to such action.

This turnaround is also said to be the result of Okuda’s advice to Mitarai. This is understandable because Okuda has a track record of making Toyota an environmentally friendly company, having initiated development of the low-emission “hybrid” automobile — which runs on both a gasoline engine and a battery — over strong opposition within his own company. Okuda is said to have advised Mitarai that continued opposition to limits on carbon dioxide emissions would endanger the latter’s position as a leader in business circles.

A strong bond between Okuda and DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa is also said to have been instrumental in restoring the relationship between Nippon Keidanren and the No. 1 opposition party, which had been severed for three years.

One evening in early April, Okuda was having drinks with Koizumi, and a number of powerful lawmakers from both the LDP and the DPJ were with them. Okuda sought to drive home the point that the political objectives of business circles had not materialized.

Even though Nippon Keidanren, under his leadership, decided to resume political contributions with the aim of exerting influence on politics, nothing much has happened since the opposition camp won a majority in the Upper House election last year. Okuda is deeply concerned that unless this situation is rectified, Japan will become isolated in the international community.

That’s why Okuda has been meeting with leading political figures of both camps frequently but secretly. He appears set on reorganizing the entire Japanese political landscape after the next general elections. He is supported by Koizumi, Mitarai and Takashi Imai, honorary chairman of Nippon Steel Corp.

It should be noted that a move toward political reorganization at the initiative of a business leader has never worked before. If Okuda fails in his bid, he could end up a laughingstock, like a 21st-century Don Quixote.

A chivalrous spirit may be driving him. Regardless of the outcome, Okuda is likely to remain most influential as Mitarai’s mentor.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the May issue of Sentaku, a magazine covering Japanese political, economic and social topics.


The Independent of London quotes Yvo de Boer, in the Monday May 27 issue:

“UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said strong national commitments to cut gases by industrialized countries were needed to encourage rapidly developing nations such as China and India to curb their own emissions.

“While I think a long-term goal is good, I hope that agreeing to one doesn’t consume too much time and detract from what I think should be the primary focus, namely providing clarity on where rich nations intend to be in 2020,” he said.  

Above is the problem at hand – in a nutshell. If de Boer continues to speak up he might yet redeem himself and his organization – the UNFCCC.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a comment for this article