Thursday, July 23, 2015

About Japan

About Japan. One of the world's wealthiest and most developed economies, Japan has just filed its INDC greenhouse gas reduction plan with the UNFCCC, and received a grade of "inadequate" from the Carbon Action Tracker website, a respected independent research agency. Japan is of course just one of 195 national players, though an important one, but the inadequacies of its INDC submission--which Carbon Tracker says would lead to a temperature increase of "more than 3-4 degrees C this century" if used as a global standard--point to some symptomatic problems in the UNFCCC initiative. What exactly makes Japan an under-performer?
  • First, Japan measures its carbon reduction against 2013 levels, rather than using 1990 or even 2005. This means its proposed 26% emissions reduction by 2030 is really an inflated number--Japan has greatly increased emissions in the last few years, making the 26% really much less in 1990 terms.  
  • That "sleight of hand" as some have called it points to another dimension of the problem: Japan, after the Fukushima disaster 4 years ago, entered an abrupt phase of transformation in its entire energy system, with considerable increases in coal and other fossil fuels to replace its collapsed atomic sector. Is that quite special circumstance an acceptable justification? Don't all countries bring their own special cases to the bargaining table?
  • But Japan is not only turning to coal in the short term. It is planning to build dozens of new coal-fired power plants, making coal a major part of its energy plan through mid-century and beyond. Thus the inflated 2013 denominator is really intended to obscure a policy turning in the wrong direction.
  • Furthermore, Japan continues to finance major coal-fired power projects all over Asia--its role in exporting emissions is perhaps more damaging than its domestic consumption.
  • And finally, like Russia, Canada, and other forested countries, Japan is claiming considerable mitigation from existing forests, even though the carbon-absorption of its forests is projected to decrease radically in coming decades (from deforestation?). But a loophole in the UNFCCC calculations fails to include existing carbon capture in the status quo, so that a country like Japan can claim it as an enhancement even though it is actually a net reduction. But who exactly is this phony bookkeeping intended to fool?
In short, Japan's submitted plan represents a sort of gamesmanship on the global circuit, a way to present a respectable set of numbers to the Paris conference even though those numbers are misleading and not very meaningful. Will the conference as a whole be an exercise in gamesmanship and obfuscation? One hopes not, but the example of Japan is certainly dispiriting. 

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