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Government, Industry Unite on Environment

November 19, 1997

Measures are on the table to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. (Photo: Kyodo)

Mindful of the Third Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3) in Kyoto in December, concerned ministries and government agencies are preparing to beef up from next fiscal year experimental projects and development of technology for combatting global warming. As host of the environmental summit, Japan also wants to see smooth progress in these programs in order to win international understanding of its posture toward reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Private companies are likewise developing a range of technologies to cut carbon dioxide emissions, so that the effort has become truly national.

A Range of Government Measures
So far, the Environment Agency and Ministry of International Trade and Industry have taken the lead in research on protection of the global environment. Now additional bodies, including the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, are preparing to hasten their development of technology to cut carbon dioxide emissions by broadening trial projects and international joint research. The project that the Environment Agency is pursuing is geared to finding ways of reducing vehicular emissions of carbon dioxide. The goal is to get people to leave their cars at parking lots built on the outskirts of town and to take the bus, train, or other public transport to the center. Participants in the scheme will get specially discounted train and other "environmental passes." This scheme, known in Britain as "Park and Ride," has been introduced in various places in Europe. In Japan, the agency plans to try out the scheme in three cities in the first fiscal year to look into how great a reduction in emissions can be expected if it is introduced nationwide.

The international joint-research project to be started by MITI is aimed at encouraging the transfer of energy-saving technology to developing countries in Asia. For that reason, researchers will focus only on technologies that are easy to apply. A key objective is to stop total carbon dioxide emissions in developing countries from reaching the level of advanced nations' emissions in 2000, as many expect them to do. Major candidate areas of research are high-efficiency turbines for power generation and development of technology for greater thermal efficiency in factories.

Even the postal ministry, which to date has been little associated with the drive to stop global warming, has a new project up its sleeve: It plans to set up what it calls an "international environmental protection network" in which high-speed optical fiber would be used to link up environmental organizations in the Asia-Pacific area. It would help Japan formulate policy by gathering data on matters such as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and air temperatures in various countries and regions.

And ministries and agencies are placing greater emphasis on environmental conservation in their existing programs, increasing subsidies to encourage home solar-power generation and broadening tax breaks for purchases of electric and other low-pollution cars.

Industry's Role
According to the Environment Agency, the 16 ministries and agencies involved in environmental matters requested a total of 490.7 billion yen (3.9 billion U.S. dollars at 125 yen to the dollar) for anti-global-warming measures in their fiscal 1998 budgetary requests, an increase of 4% from the initial budget for fiscal 1997. Despite the policy of stringent cuts in general expenditures undertaken as part of the Hashimoto administration's fiscal reforms, the trade, transport, and postal ministries all sought big increases to fall under supplementary spending for environmental, scientific, and communications issues. It is probable that the COP3 conference will set emission-reduction targets for 2000 and after. The stance of Japan as host is bound to come under scrutiny; the government is also keen to show the international community that it is serious about developing new technology.

In tandem with these national plans, private industry is also exercising itself over carbon dioxide emissions. In June, the Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren) laid down its Voluntary Action Plan on the Environment involving 137 umbrella organizations in 36 industries . Under the program, each industry announces concrete targets in areas such as emissions cuts, and reports on its efforts to develop technology to combat global warming. Companies covered by each umbrella group in the scheme individually or jointly carry out research pertaining to target achievement. From next year, the program will require annual progress reports.

To cut carbon dioxide emissions from cars, for example, numerical targets for 2000 have been set for the automotive industry for improving fuel efficiency in gasoline-powered engines. As a result, manufacturers are developing fuel-efficient engines capable of meeting these targets. And they are working beyond the bounds of their own industry, developing technology for and supporting improvement of traffic-supervision systems and researching ways of eliminating congestion.

The steel industry, meanwhile, is planning to make its production processes more energy-efficient and bring its energy consumption in 2010 to a level 10% lower than that in 1990. The electrical-machinery sector likewise is trying to cut energy bills at the production stage. It plans to pare carbon dioxide emissions per unit of production in 2010 by at least 25% compared with 1990 levels.

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Trends in Japan Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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