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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Guest Post: Reducing Japan’s Carbon Emissions

Colleagues in BT across the globe who have an interest in sustainability share their insights with me. I find that perspectives from outside of the relatively small group of us immediately involved in sustainability can be especially enlightening. A recent update from Takeshi Fukada, a BT Conferencing sales manager in Japan especially caught my attention for its illustration both of the challenges in reaching a global agreement on emissions reduction but also the support for countries to take action. Takeshi kindly agreed to share his insights below:

The Nikkei newspaper carried an interesting article on October 4th referring to Japan's recent commitment to 25% carbon emission reduction by 2020 (from a 1991 baseline).

According to the Nikkei some EU countries, such as France and Denmark, and some developing countries had praise for our announcement. It is an honor for us, but the article says we should consider deeply what their "praise" means.

Developing countries are happy, says the Nikkei, because it is obvious they can expect benefit from it, such as commercial backup and technical support for CO2 reduction. The EU, on the other hand, may be happy because Japan, one of its competitors in the global market, set and committed to this hard target by themselves. The target limits CO2 emission in Japan. It means we have some limitation on our productivity geographically. So the article says that the position of some EU countries is a "backhanded compliment".

At the same time, we know from the history that its target will not limit our economic expansion because it promotes our technical innovation.

I personally take very positively that Japan takes its high target. We will have some commercial difficulties, but it can put us at a different stage, as a leader in environmental business, like the US takes a lead in IT business.


  1. Global agreement on what sustainable development is has had a difficult birth, but maybe we are beginning to see an era of global agreement in such comments above.

    Greenhouse gas (GHG, CO2e) reduction is only part of a larger issue of industrial transition. I try to encourage cyclical industrial transition, with perhaps the best and leading examples from William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their Cradle to Cradle methodology.

    There is argument from some quarters that Climate Change mitigation (if this is possible given its momentum) through GHG reduction will act as an unfair industrial brake on those aspiring to meet certain GHG reduction targets.

    Cradle to Cradle methodology not only deals with waste of materials and energy, but the by-product is carbon balance (net zero) or even a positive balance (energy input or sequestration). It is possible to arrive at waste = resource.

    Industrial opportunities for this cyclical industrial transition are considerable and show the door to an industrial renaissance respecting the finite resources we have, and how we use them.

    Takeshi Hara, Professor at Waseda Kankyou Jyuku (WSE), has often used the term ‘Environmental Japanology’ and the goal of the WSE has been to educate and inspire ‘active leaders’ who are committed to innovation in order to promote the sustainability of Japanese society and the planet. Hara has said,

    "Over the past 50 years, industrial Japan has gone through periods of destruction and renaissance, and WSE hopes to establish 'Environmental Japanology' as a means of uniting Japan's modernisation and cultural traditions, in pursuit of a sustainable society."

    He believes that Japan can offer the world a valuable model for sustainable development based on its own often contradictory experience, including traditions of nature conservation and the modern challenges of severe industrial pollution.

    Hara's belief is that a sustainable society will need to synthesise three elements; nature, human beings and culture, and this Environmental Japanology has many parallels with Cradle to Cradle methodology.

    These parallels are hardly surprising given we all live on the same planet. Let us hope the pace of this industrial transition overtakes the pace of Climate Change.

  2. I think this is a positive change in Japan to take leadership role in global society. This has not been seen in global politics before, and it is inspiring for Japanese people. Now the challenge is to live up to this commitment. I agree and hope that this clear goal would accelerate innovation and regulatory support for green technologies. It would be good if this would create new jobs in the market, too.

  3. Hi Anonymous, thanks for your comment. Would be great to know what country you are based in ?


  4. The comment above is from Yoko, a colleague of Takeshi Fukuda-san in Japan. thanks Yoko.

    I know most of my readers are in the US, but it would be great to hear from someone in France or Denmark as those two countries were cited in the original article !

  5. Japan's Prime Minister Hatoyama announced 25% reduction of CO2 emission to globally. I agree with him. But in Japan there are lots of comments on what he said are:
    It is very difficult to reduce more because Japan has been ahead of other countries in this technologies which have been adopted to many of Japanese companies.
    The level of technologies, therefore, are at highest level compared with other countries, so there might be very slim opportunities to reduce - 25% is far from it.
    If 25% is adopted, Japan's industries will have huge impacts on themselves financially, as further improvement needs further extra money.
    Business Federation of Japan, largest business 3rd part of Japan, is central organization which supports this in opposition to what PM Hatoyama insists.
    But I feel most of ordinary Japanese seems to agree with what our PM said though most of them do not have any rationale about how Japan can do. It is sort of optimistic feeling among us, very rare because usually most of Japanese tends to be pessimistic on, such as economic growth, Japan's future, and others. I feel in the same way. More to say, this is a kind of feeling like "we should do it," with no good supportive reasons.

    But I want to point out one thing which Japan achieved in the past in the similar situation.
    In 1970, US announced the new law draft, Muskie Act which regulated air pollution in US. This law has huge impact on the automobile industry because cars' emission of CO2, HC, and NOx should be 10 times lower since in 1975. US Car manufactures as well as Japan's automobile industry were very much surprised this announcement because nobody thought it was possible to overcome the high level of request. The law was not passed in the US Congress and gone in 1974 after all as the big three and others in US opposed strongly this law to be effective. In Japan all of car makers also strongly opposed to it, but one new car company Honda successfully invented a new engine called CVCC and met with the Muskie Act requirements. Other car makers in Japan like Toyota and Nissan followed Honda with the new tech adopted to their cars and made significant progress in their businesses in the world, even in the State of California in US where the regulation was the strictest.

    Therefore, I am optimistic and want to share the well-known proverb with you: "Where there is a will, there is a way."

  6. Being a BT employee in The Netherlands, I follow the reporting on the climate issues with great interest. The report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) released November 12th 2009, which shows that the European Union and all Member States but one are on track to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments to limit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the 15 countries which were Member States of the EU when the Protocol was agreed (EU 15) are committed to reducing their collective greenhouse gas emissions in the period 2008–2012 to 8 % below levels in a chosen base year (1990). This collective commitment has been translated into differentiated national emission targets for each EU 15 Member State which are binding under EU law.

    Is the praise by countries like France and Denmark a sincere compliment or just a “backhanded compliment”? Seen in light of the EEA report, which states that France’s average emissions are lower than the Kyoto protocol targets and the ambition of the European Union (EU) to raise the target for the reduction of GHG emissions from 20% to 30% when the United States and China are willing to propose ambitious plans in the same area, I’d interpret it as a real compliment.

    France, amongst others, has already invested in “clean tech” to reduce GHG. Denmark and The Netherlands are above the Kyoto protocol targets, and must execute actions and make the necessary investments to meet the targets. Therefore, these countries praising Japan have already seen or certainly will also see a hit on productivity due to the necessary investments in GHG limiting measures. Examples of measures in The Netherlands include investments in clean tech for coal-based power plants and underground CO2 storage.

    Therefore, I’m sure to say that both Japan and the EU are serious about the reduction of GHG emissions, are in the same team and the compliments are sincere.