TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan seems to have met its goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol in the past two years, helped by a slumping economy and buying carbon offsets from abroad.
But an expected recovery from its worst recession in decades means Japan, the world’s fifth-biggest greenhouse gas emitter, is facing a more difficult road ahead, analysts said.
Japan’s Trade Ministry said on Tuesday emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fuel fell 5.6 percent to 1.075 billion tonnes in the year to March 2010, after falling a record 6.6 percent in the previous year.
“In the past two years, we saw the deterioration in the economy playing a key role in cutting CO2 emissions,” said Takashi Ishizaki, director of the ministry’s energy policy planning office.
The government is to announce preliminary data for 2009/10 greenhouse gas emissions in the coming weeks.
Given CO2 from burning fuel accounts for about 90 percent of Japan’s overall emissions, 2009/2010 greenhouse gas emissions based on Tuesday’s preliminary data can be estimated at about 1.194 billion tonnes.
CO2 from chemical reactions and other processes accounts for about 5 percent of Japan’s emissions and the remainder is made up of other greenhouse gasses, such as hydrofluorocarbons used in refrigerators and air conditioners.
The estimated total clears Tokyo’s Kyoto goal of 1.186 billion tonnes a year on average over the 2008-2012 period, down 6 percent from 1990 levels, when taking into account the volumes of carbon offsets Japan has bought from abroad, analysts said.
The Bank of Japan in late October cut its economic growth forecast for 2010/11 to 2.1 percent from 2.6 percent predicted three months ago.
Still, the Japanese economy is fairing better than a year earlier and in 2008/09 when its gross domestic product slid by 1.9 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively.
“The past two years was an exception. It would be surprising if 2010/11 data to be released next year shows another year-on-year drop in emissions,” said Naoyuki Yamagishi, climate change programme leader at WWF Japan.
The drop in economic activity accounted for about 55 percent of the decline in 2009/10, the trade ministry said.
Improvement in the country’s nuclear plant utilisation rate to 65.7 percent last fiscal year, from 60.0 percent a year earlier, also helped contain CO2 emissions by reducing fossil fuel use in power generation, the ministry said.
“In a normal year, we suppose greenhouse gas emissions would be 6 to 8 percent above the 1990 levels,” WWF’s Yamagishi said, adding Japan should craft effective policy steps to meet its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.
The government and companies in Japan have bought a combined more than 400 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent of Kyoto carbon offsets for delivery between 2008 and 2012, a trade ministry official has said, or 80 million tonnes a year on average.
Tokyo’s plans to meet the minus 6 percent goal also include some 48 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year of emissions offsets from planting trees at home.
In 2008/09, Kyoto’s first year, Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions totalled 1.282 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent, final government data in April showed, clearing the minus 6 percent goal when taking into account the two types of carbon offsets.
Japan saw its greenhouse gas emissions peaking at a record 1.369 billion tonnes in 2007/08, up 8.5 percent from 1.261 billion tonnes in 1990/91.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)