Tokyo’s faltering Kyoto target

Monzurul Huq
Kyoto is undoubtedly one of the finest cities of Japan. It also has a long history tracing back to the early period of the founding of the Japanese empire. With more than 4,000 temples and shrines, of which quite a few are among the most attractive and unique in design and structure, the city attracts millions of visitors every year from both within Japan and overseas.

Yet, Kyoto in recent years has expanded this international familiarity further and moved far beyond its earlier position because of the landmark agreement on global environment that was signed in the city towards the end of the twentieth century. The Kyoto Protocol has added a new dimension to this historic city by calling on international community to cut the emissions level of greenhouse gases to a point that would be less harmful to mankind.

But despite reflecting the name of a noble cause of protecting our human habitat for the benefit of future generations, the city itself is not entirely immune to the harmful effect of uncontrolled emission that had been marked by the advanced industrialised countries right from the early days of industrial revolution.

The unbearable summer heat makes life in Kyoto a bit difficult for both local residents as well as short-term visitors. Since the city is surrounded by mountains from all sides; the heat never seems to subside and the locals complain about global warming as being the cause behind increasing summer temperature.

Japan is witnessing an unprecedented heat wave this year as mercury, in some parts of the country, reached above 40 degree Celsius with no trace of any rain. Twenty-four people across Japan have died during the first half of the week of heatstroke and water accidents. Since high temperature is expected to continue for a few more days, casualty figure is sure to rise further.

The prevailing weather condition is also jeopardising the efforts of the government to spread the message of the importance of leading an environment-friendly lifestyle that calls for less usage of air conditioners, automobiles and other household amenities.

The urgency to carry the message is being felt more by policymakers because of Japan’s increasingly expanding shortfall in meeting the target of reducing the emissions level set by the Kyoto Protocol. Officials fear that unless Japan takes drastic steps to meet its Kyoto Protocol target for greenhouse gas reductions, it would be difficult for the country to fulfil the international commitment.

The 1997 protocol requires Japan to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases it releases into the air to 6 per cent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. But according to a joint report published recently by the ministry of environment and ministry of economy, trade and industry, the measures included in the current government reduction plan will lower Japan’ emission by around 4 per cent in 2010 from the 1990 level.

Even after accounting for offset measures like absorption of carbon dioxide by plants and emission credits obtained in developing countries that are allowed under Kyoto Protocol, Japan’s emission will be only 3.3 to 4.5 per cent lower that its 1990 level. That means Japan will fall short of reaching the 6 per cent reduction mark and new measures has to be taken to secure an additional cut of 2 percentage points.

During the base fiscal year of 1990, which is used to calculate emissions changes under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan emitted greenhouse gases equivalent to 1,261 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Under the terms of the Protocol, the country is required to reduce emissions to 1,186 billion tons a year between 2008 and 2012. But the latest estimates show that carbon dioxide emissions by the mid-point of 2010 will reach 1,273 to 1,287 billion tons.

Even after taking other factors like carbon dioxide absorbed by the forests and emission credits generated from eco-friendly projects in developing countries into account, 2010 emissions are likely to overshoot the target by 1.5 to 2.7 percentage points or 20 million to 30 million tons.

The report, as a result, focuses on urging business community and consumers to make greater effort for emission reduction. The business community, particularly, has been encouraged to develop voluntary plan by setting numerical target for each industry.

It should be noted that energy efficiency of Japanese manufacturing plants has already been improved significantly. The projected emission from industrial sector in 2010 is estimated to be about 9 per cent lower than the level of 1990. As a result, any new incentive for that sector is targeted to motivate the industry to cut emissions even further. It is the household sector that still remains a problematic area in emission control.

As the report suggested, carbon dioxide emission from households in 2010 will grow more than 10 per cent from the 1990 level, and those from offices and other business-related facilities will increase by around 30 per cent.

To check this unbalanced growth, the report came up with a unique suggestion of 1 kilogram reduction in daily carbon dioxide emissions by each person. In theory this would help the country to reduce emission level by several percentage points if each and every citizen joins the effort and contributes actively. But there is no easy way of convincing people of the benefit of something that remains mostly invisible. According to official estimates, replacing air-conditioners and lighting equipments with energy-efficient models would lead to a 0.3 kilogram reduction in daily carbon dioxide emissions.

In Japan, nuclear power generation has been promoted as a powerful means to control greenhouse gas emission. But nuclear power plants have their down side as well, as it was exposed recently by the closure of the country’s largest nuclear power station in Niigata prefecture. The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant halted operations after it was shaken by a powerful earthquake that hit the region around mid-July.

The operator of the power station, Tokyo Electric Power Company, estimates that the suspension of the plant will lead to a 2 per cent jump in Japan’s carbon dioxide emissions in current fiscal year alone as the operator is now switching over to conventional thermal power generation to overcome the shortfall.

As a result, as the core five-year period from 2008 to 2012, the time when reduction of emissions is to be strictly monitored, is fast approaching, the Kyoto target for Japan seems to be an uphill climb and much is still needed to be done for the target and not remain only in the paper.

Monzurul Huq is a columnist of The Daily Star.

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