Japan defends greenhouse gas U-turn at climate talks

WARSAW (AFP) - Japan's negotiator at United Nations climate talks defended his country's decision on Friday to scale back its greenhouse-gas reduction target, saying the move was forced by the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Government negotiators and observers reacted with dismay at Japan's announcement that it will aim for a 3.8 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 from 2005 levels, replacing a more ambitious goal to slash them by 25 per cent from 1990 levels.

Envoy Hiroshi Minami told journalists in Warsaw his government was reviewing Japan's energy policy and the ratio that should be provided by nuclear, renewable or fossil fuel sources, and left the door open for reconsidering the heavily criticised U-turn.

"I want to assure you my country is still ambitious on climate change. My prime minister is committed to the climate change challenge," he told journalists at the annual talks on limiting carbon emissions.

The UN is seeking to limit average warming to 2 deg C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels in a bid to avert the worst effects of climate change, such as sea level rises and worsening droughts, floods and storms.

Before the 2011 earthquake and tsunami wrecked the Fukushima plant and prompted a review of nuclear power, between 26 and 29 per cent of Japan's electricity came from nuclear power plants, said Mr Minami.

None are operational at the moment.

"Under the 25 per cent target, the older target for mitigation, the assumption was that more than 40 per cent of electricity will be dependent on nuclear power stations. So the current assumption is that there will be zero nuclear power stations," he explained.

"If there is any development in this work on the energy policy revision, perhaps we will be able to revisit the mitigation target in the new future."

While conceding that developing countries seemed "very disappointed" with Japan's new target, the negotiator insisted his government was committed to a developed-country goal of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

That aim was backed by the powerful G-8 group of countries at a summit in Italy in 2009.

"We have made another commitment for climate finance, and the total amount is $16 billion for three years from this year until the year 2015," said Mr Minami.

Japan would also invest US$110 billion (S$137 billion) of public and private money in research and development on energy and the environment over five years, he said.