No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

June 10th, 2009

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Japan announced a target for emissions reductions, that by all accounts is based on what the Japanese government thinks is actually possible.

In reaction to this announcement, the Japanese government was criticized for not playing along with the charade that most every other country is playing:

Yvo de Boer, general secretary of the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, said emission reduction plans submitted so far leave industrial countries “a long long way from the ambitious reduction scenarios” that scientists say are needed. He appeared taken aback by the limited scope of the Japanese announcement.

“For the first time in 2-1/2 years in this job, I don’t know what to say,” he said.

Why makes Japan’s proposal more responsible than that of Europe, the US, or any other country? Prime Minister Taro Aso explains:

Mr. Aso was quick to point out that unlike targets set under the Kyoto Protocol, which allowed countries to use emissions offsets and other methods, the 15 percent decrease would come from actual cuts. The government recently introduced subsidies that encourage the use of solar power in Japanese homes, as well as incentives on low-emission cars.

The 15 percent target, Mr. Aso stressed, was a compromise he had reached after consulting extensively with scientists and economists, as well as with members of the public.

To meet the target, Japan will pursue breakthroughs in environmental technology, as well as expand the use of nuclear energy. Mr. Aso has said Tokyo aimed to expand solar output by a factor of 20 and put more “green” cars on Japanese roads. He said he believed Japanese companies could increase efficiency even further.

In other words, Japan is focused on actually changing the carbon intensity of its economy, and not with playing accounting games with allowances, credits, and offsets. The Japanese economy is the second most carbon efficient large economy (after France) and thus additional progress comes at a correspondingly more costly price. Consider that if the world economy was as carbon efficient as Japan’s economy, then carbon dioxide emissions this year would be about 33% less.

Of course, Japan could have gone along with Europe and now the U.S. in making fictional commitments to fictional targets and timetables, and everyone would have praised their commitments. We have seen how well that approach has worked out in Australia.

Sincere efforts should be rewarded, and Japan is showing leadership on a difficult challenge. While it is true that Japan’s proposals do not represent a complete solution to the challenge of decarbonization — far from it — they do point toward a way forward, which is much more than can be said for other nations or the actions under the Framework Convention.

What does Japan get for its leadership? Criticism.

Such is the up is down world of climate policy where no good deed goes unpunished.

One Response to “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”

  1. Rising Sums: Is Japan an Environmental Bad Boy or Leader? - Environmental Capital - WSJ Says:

    [...] issue, fundamentally, is a simple question: Should countries pledge to do what they think is possible when it comes to curbing greenhouse-gas [...]