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New Group Plans a Solar Japan

TOKYO—Japan "has not shown leadership" on environmental issues, former investment banker Yasuyo Yamazaki said here yesterday at the inaugural press conference of the Sun-Based Economy Association. Yamazaki, who heads the new nongovernmental organization, says he and his colleagues are out to provide that leadership by pushing for the creation of a renewable energy-based economy in Japan that could be an example for other countries.   

By several measures, Japan is already is a good model. It has one of the lowest per capita carbon emission levels among industrialized countries—roughly half the emissions of the United States. It is one of the world's most efficient countries when carbon emissions are measured against GDP, and Japanese manufacturers are world leaders in many green technologies, including hybrid and electric cars and photovoltaic cells.

But Japan made its biggest gains in energy efficiency in response to the 1970s oil crisis. Over the past decade or so, the country has not cut carbon emission per unit of GDP, while the U.S. has. Japan is likely to fall far short of its own Kyoto Protocol target for 2012 of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 6% from 1990 levels.

Yamazaki blamed the reluctance to tackle environmental issues more aggressively on entrenched industrial interests and timid politicians. And that's where the Sun-Based Economy Association (Web site is only in Japanese at the moment) comes in.

They intend to propose combinations of public spending, tax incentives, and regulatory changes to begin weaning Japan's economy and society off of fossil fuels. Although Yamazaki emphasized the need to get these initiatives started "this year and next year," the group is still working out its own agenda. The only concrete proposal Yamazaki described centered on promoting the use of electric and hybrid vehicles by building charging stations throughout the country and letting highly fuel-efficient cars run on Japan's toll roads for free. Other organization officials admitted they are still coming up to speed.

The group's press conference was held a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and  U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern visited Tokyo. Although the two officials discussed climate change with their Japanese counterparts, no new agreements or strategies were announced. Yamazaki mentioned how the new U.S. administration is bringing a fresh approach to environmental issues. Current polls indicate that Japanese elections that must be held before the end of September will likely results in a new administration here as well. And that will create an opening for better environmental policies, Yamazaki said.