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Saturday, Feb. 12, 2005

Environmentalists discuss energy matters in Kyoto

Staff writer

KYOTO -- Green-party politicians and activists from around the Asia-Pacific region gathered here Friday for a three-day conference to discuss regional issues, ranging from renewable energy to human rights.

The 100 international delegates from 23 countries will also provide advice to their Japanese counterparts, who will formally establish a new group of local green-party candidates and supporters Sunday with the aim of eventually creating a national green party that would field candidates for the Diet.

"We have to build the Japanese green party at the local level. Ideally, we'd like to have enough support to be able to win 10 Diet seats in the next general election," said Kiyoshi Matsuya, an independent prefectural assemblyman from Shizuoka Prefecture.

While no names have been suggested as possible green-party candidates for the Diet, Kiyomi Tsujimoto, the disgraced former House of Representatives lawmaker from the Social Democratic Party, has long expressed a need for a national green party.

Tsujimoto failed to gain a seat in last year's House of Councilors election but is involved in nongovernmental organizations working on green-party issues.

She is expected to attend meetings at the conference on Saturday.

At Friday's session, however, the focus was on promoting renewable energy.

Although the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions is due to take effect Wednesday, fossil fuels remain the main source of energy for countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and a major political obstacle to governments adopting policies that promote renewable energy.

"We need a 60 percent to 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases to effectively combat climate change, which is perhaps the biggest crisis facing humanity today," said Senator Bob Brown of the Australian Green Party. "Yet we are up against the might of the coal lobby, and the Asia-Pacific region, led by the U.S., China, India, and Australia, is the center of the world's coal industry."

Mie Asaoka of the nongovernmental organization Kiko Network noted that in Japan's case, there is a long way to go before it can meet its Kyoto Protocol target of bringing greenhouse gas emissions down to 6 percent below 1990 levels.

"There has actually been an 8 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 levels, which means Japan would have to reduce emissions by 14 percent to meet the Kyoto Protocol target," Asaoka said. "But there is no clear strategy for emission reduction, and no effective policy mechanisms like monitoring schemes or carbon taxes."

Japan has tried to introduce renewable energy sources like solar and wind power but with very limited success. Tetsunari Iida, of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, said that renewable energy initiatives in Japan have fallen victim to political infighting and strong opposition from Japan's utilities.

"Energy politics in the Diet is still controlled by politicians who wish to stick with nuclear energy and fossil fuels," Iida said. "The political debate in The Liberal Democratic Party over energy is controlled by the electricity utilities, while the debate in the Democratic Party of Japan is controlled by the trade unions in the utilities. Both groups are hostile to greatly expanding renewable energy resources."

On Saturday, the focus will shift from energy to human rights issues, specifically the legal rights and protection of minorities in Asia.

For Japan, which has no laws in place to protect ethnic minorities, despite pressure from the United Nations to enact legislation of this kind, much of the discussion will focus on securing and protecting the rights of ethnic Koreans and Ainu.

The conference is expected to conclude Sunday with the establishment of a formal Asia-wide network of green party politicians and candidates.

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The Japan Times

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