Japan environment minister urges U.S. to return to Kyoto Protocol

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Japan proposed itself as an arbiter Wednesday between the opposing views of the United States and Europe on global warming, saying it will urge Washington to return to the Kyoto Protocol but also seek more "flexibility" from the EU.

Environment Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said that as the origin of a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, the United States must commit itself to reducing greenhouse gases. But she also said that tough anti­US talk in Europe is counterproductive.

"Japan and the EU are in the same camp," she told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. "But Japan is trying to persuade the EU to soften its stance in order to bring the US back."

US President George W. Bush dealt a setback to climate control efforts by rejecting a 1997 international pact that was approved by his predecessor, Bill Clinton. Bush called the Kyoto Protocol "fatally flawed" and unfair to US companies.

On Wednesday, Kawaguchi warned that it will be impossible to persuade developing countries to reduce their own CO2 emissions if the world's biggest industrial powerhouse, the United States, won't take the lead.

"Developing countries ... are hardly likely to feel that developed countries are living up to their obligations under this scenario, with the obvious consequence that it will be difficult ­ more likely impossible ­ to persuade them to take on emissions reductions," she said. "It is crucial to have US participation."

Unlike the assertion of many European nations, however, Kawaguchi said the Kyoto Protocol was more like a work­in­progress rather than a finished treaty. She added that Japan will exert its influence with the United States to persuade it "to return to the fold."

"There is a good deal of maneuvering room here," she said. "The Kyoto Protocol is like a house being built ... What we are looking at now is finishing out the details."

Kawaguchi said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will bring up the global warming controversy during his summit with President Bush on June 30.

She said she plans to visit Washington to discuss the Kyoto Protocol before a fresh round of talks on climate control in July in Bonn, Germany.

The environment minister said Japan remains committed to reaching its own target of a 6 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010 as set out by the Kyoto Protocol, despite US objections to the treaty.

"Japan continues to meet this challenge no­holds­barred and head­on," she said. "Japan sees the arguably harsh reductions targets ... as an opportunity. New business opportunities will be opening."

Unlike many environmentalists in Europe, however, Kawaguchi expressed opposition to punitive measures for countries that fail to meet reductions targets. She said she favors advising them on ways to meet those targets in the future.

"Things don't improve simply by saying there will be penalties," she said.