Japan’s election is a boost for Copenhagen

As argued last week on Left Foot Forward, developed country leaders are far from pledging what is necessary for a safe and strong global treaty in Copenhagen. The good news is that the election this week of a new Japanese government comes with a commitment to a significantly improved target for carbon reductions from a country that has until now been amongst the most regressive in the world on climate change.

Until last month Japan had no climate target for 2020 at all. The modest target (8% cuts on 1990 levels by 2020) that Prime Minister Taro Aso’s administration committed to during the election campaign caused U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer to say he was “lost for words” when asked to comment.

However, incoming Prime Minister-elect Yukio Hatoyama campaigned with a pledge he would increase the target to a 25% cut by 2020, which would positions Japan with a more progressive target than the EU (-20% by 2020) going into Copenhagen.

But set against the (now outdated and thus too conservative) analysis from the scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that there must be reductions in developed countries of up to 40% by 2020, one can see the clear science-politics gap, and consequently why there is still a real risk that the Copenhagen talks could fall apart in December unless bolder targets are adopted by industrial countries.

Along with 2020 reduction targets for rich countries, the other major issue deadlocking the UN climate talks is the need for a global fund for low-carbon development, adaptation and for the protection of forests in developing countries. NGOs like Oxfam and Greenpeace are calling for more than $140 billion a year by 2020 and a leaked report shows the EU’s own advisers are telling finance ministers they estimate that a sum in that region will be required.

Gordon Brown recently became the first major leader to recognise this is the crux issue holding the talks back when he called for a $100bn global climate fund. Brown’s ask has yet to be endorsed by other key heads of state who still seem reticent, and climate campaigners are now looking to the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh as the next key moment to see if other leaders will get behind him.

Everyone following this process seems to agree that these two issues will be key to unblocking the Copenhagen talks.

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