Prime Minister Hatoyama announced that he would push for a GHG reduction target that would reduce net Japanese emissions to 75% of 1990 levels—the equivalent of 67% of the 2005 level. Caveat: the Japanese target is contingent on major fence-sitters—read US and China—coming up with their own comparable sacrifices. The Obama administration has just come out with its own goal that aims to reduce US emissions to 85% of the 2005 level, or 97% of the 1995 level. The Japanese figures look far more impressive than the corresponding US figures. Does this mean that Hatoyama has far greater ambitions than Obama?
What’s missing from the ongoing debate in Japan is the demographics perspective. The Japanese population plateaued in the post-bubble years and peaked in 2005 at 3% above the 1990 level so it will be back to the 1990 level when 2020 rolls around. The US population, in contrast, was at 21% above the 1990 level in 2005, and is expected to be 38% above the 1990 level in 2020. Do the arithmetic and you’ll find that, on a per capita basis, the Japan target represents a 25% reduction from the 1990 level and a 33% reduction from the 2005 level, while the US target represents 30% and 33% reductions respectively. In per capita terms—the most equitable yardstick according to many pundits as well as most developing countries lacking oil export capacities—the US target is arguably more ambitious than the Japanese one.
There are too other important factors that determine existing energy/GHG-emissions profiles to say anything definite about the relative merits of the goals that state actors have been pushing on behalf of their constituencies. Still, a cursory look at the demographics indicates that the Obama administration’s target is nothing to sneer at compared to the corresponding figure for the Hatoyama administration.