TOKYO — With Japan’s oil and gas plants firing at full capacity, officials here say there is little chance of meeting a pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly over the next decade, a startling retreat for a country that once spearheaded an international agreement on climate change.The earlier, ambitious target to slash emissions 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 has been overrun by a more urgent, short-term need: to burn fossil fuels and maintain a steady electricity supply in the wake of the country’s abrupt turn away from nuclear power.
Japan, still the world’s third-largest economy, was once the poster child for aggressive environmental policy. It chaired the historic conference 15 years ago that led to the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first climate pact, and it pioneered clean technology, using decades of research to boost energy efficiency.
Environmental experts note that Japan, with the right policy push, could build up its long-neglected renewable energy sector and eventually fill the void of atomic energy, which before the Fukushima disaster accounted for one-third of Japan’s electricity output. But that will take years, and in the meantime, Japan will see its greenhouse gas emissions spike as power companies struggle to meet demand.
Japan hasn’t yet formally backed away from its pledge, made in 2009, to slash emissions by 2020, a government spokeswoman cautioned. It has also honored its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, which required industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gases by an average of 5 percent from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.
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