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Japan shrinks emissions cut target; climate talks attendees disappointed


The Japanese government on Friday slashed its emissions reduction target, citing the shutdown of all the country's nuclear power plants in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident, but leaving many dismayed at the ongoing UN climate negotiations in Warsaw.

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Japanese environmental minister Nobuteru Ishihara's announcement that Japan was cutting it 2020 emissions reduction target to 3.1% from 1990 levels, from its earlier-announced 25% cut, dominated the talks Friday.

"We're down to zero nuclear; anyone doing the math will find that target impossible now," AFP reported Ishihara saying in Tokyo after announcing the new target. The original goal was "unrealistic in the first place," he said. "The current government seeks economic growth while doing our best to meet emissions targets."

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, while emphasizing Japan's investments in energy efficiency and solar power in recent years, despite economic woes, said at the Warsaw talks: "There is certainly regret" about the Japanese decision to ease its emissions target.

Others in Warsaw were less forgiving.

"Stopping nuclear power is not a legitimate reason for lowering their target," said Japanese Climate Action Network spokeswoman Kimiko Hirata. "There are countries putting ambitious targets shifting their energy source from nuclear to renewables."

Tasneem Essop, the head of WWF's delegation in Warsaw, said the Japanese government must explain its decision.

"There is a fundamental disconnect between the reality of climate change and the attitudes of these countries," Essop said. 'AWKWARD MOMENT'

Japanese envoy to the talks Hiroshi Minami defended his government's decision.

"I want to assure you my country is still ambitious on climate change," Minami told journalists, according to AFP. "My prime minister is committed to the climate change challenge."

The Warsaw talks ended Friday at an "awkward moment," Figueres said, adding this was typical for the end of the first week of a two-week session.

"All groups are working, all items under negotiation are being considered, she said. "[There is] very much a 'roll up our sleeves and get the work done' kind of attitude," she said.

"There have been detailed conversations, although no text emerging yet on the four pillars" -- emissions mitigation, climate change adaptation, technology and finance -- of a deal," Figueres said. "Negotiators "have a desire for concrete outcomes from Warsaw."

One of the items expected from the Warsaw session is a work plan for 2014, towards a 2015 deal in Paris that would apply to all countries, developed and developing.

"The good thing is that they are still talking," said Dirk Forrister, president of lobby group the International Emissions Trading Association. "But, as is common in this process, some of the things that should be straightforward are mired in procedural and technical skirmishes and need a political push to get resolved -- and the political side arrives next week." MARKET ROLE

Figueres added she hoped the arrival of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon next week "will help us to get the consensus at the end of next week."

Climate change is one of the secretary-general's top issues, and it was confirmed this week that he will be holding a summit of world leaders in September 2014 to discuss a 2015 Paris agreement.

On Thursday, it looked like there had been a breakthrough in the talks for a "framework for various approaches," of FVA, which will enable the comparison of different emissions reduction efforts, be they trading, taxation or renewable energy standards. However, delegates Friday said decisions had been changed, fueling concerns for the multilateral process and the role of markets.

IETA's Forrister said his group hopes the FVA goes beyond the information-sharing platform that seems to be on the table in Warsaw, and also addresses harmonizing program standards, facilitates linkages and that it "assures the veracity of information" reported on emissions reductions.

"People in markets would prefer some rigor and know that things will count for compliance somewhere, some day," he added.

Karl Upston-Hooper, general counsel for asset manager GreenStream in Helsinki, cited a role for the market in the climate change solution.

"We've all assumed that will come through the intergovernmental agreement, but logically it doesn't have to be," Upston-Hooper said. "We could be a little bit more broadminded about what market means in the solution."

Upston-Hooper cited a presentation from the World Bank on the side of the negotiations on Friday morning, suggesting it could act as a carbon depository and emissions unit rating service.

"It gives me a little bit more of an optimistic viewpoint as, at that point, there are alternatives for the incorporation of carbon pricing," he said.

--Katie Kouchakji,
--Edited by Richard Rubin,