Japan pushing energy conservation measures

Japan is paying more than lip service to energy conservation. Japanese media reported last week that the country’s Environment Ministry has turned off the heat—literally—not even enough to make a cup of hot tea.

It’s all part of an effort to encourage the country to meet its goal for cutting down on emissions of greenhouse gases in line with the Kyoto Protocol. The shutdown began last Tuesday and will last for seven days. Japan hopes to cut its output of greenhouse gases by 6 percent under 1990 levels by the year 2010. The latest statistics are from 2004 and show output then was up 7.4 percent from 1990.

The ministry’s campaign urges both bureaucracy and business to help cut down on energy use. “It’s actually not that cold,” said ministry spokesman Masanori Shishido. “We’re all keeping warm from the heat of our computers.” Shushido admitted, however, that he’s started wearing thermal underwear. Last Thursday, temperatures in Tokyo stood at 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We can’t make hot tea anymore, but I get a coffee at Starbucks during the lunch break,” Shishido said, “I think we’re setting a good example for the rest of the country,” he told a Japanese newspaper.

The conservation campaign comes on the heels of a government effort last summer to conserve on air conditioning by asking businessmen and government workers to wear open-collar, short-sleeved shirts.

Yoichiro Kurokawa, coordinator of the ministry’s campaign, said such energy-saving efforts can help Japan meet its emissions goal. “Of course, it won’t be easy,” he said. “But I believe the target is within reach if Japan keeps up the effort.”

Kurokawa added that a growing number of nuclear power stations and using market-based emissions trading are expected to also help reach the goal. The Kyoto Protocol commits 35 industrialized nations to reducing or limiting the output of six gases, mainly carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels.

The European Union pledged to cut emissions by 8 percent. The U.S., through President George W. Bush, rejected the Kyoto treaty, claiming its limits on emissions would damage the American economy.

Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, is resource poor and heavily dependent on imported oil to operate its economy, although it has shrunken that dependence by 50 percent from pre-1973 levels when it stood at more than 75 percent. Most of that reduction results from energy conservation and development of alternative energy resources.

Japan has 52 nuclear reactors that now supply 35 percent of the country’s electricity. Safety is a strong concern, however, since there have been several accidents and reactor malfunctions.

“Basically, Japan is doing all it can,” Kurokawa said. “What’s important now is that we move forward properly and steadily.”

From the March 15-21, 2006, issue

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