Environment: Japan puts heat on EU to slash greenhouse gases

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The European Union came to Kyoto proud that it had the greenest stance in the industrialised world. Its negotiating position is that all developed countries should cut their annual "greenhouse gas" emissions by a thumping 15 per cent by 2010 compared with their 1990 level.

No one else comes close in terms of willingness to tackle the threat of catastrophic climate change. But yesterday the EU found its virtue under question and the host nation, Japan, was a leading questioner.

Japan is even saying the EU should make deeper emission cuts than other nations. "We can't understand why the host country is leading this offensive," said Pierre Gramegna, Luxembourg's ambassador to Tokyo.

Mr Gramegna said that there was no question of Europe agreeing to take deeper cuts in emissions than other major industrialised nations, such as the United States and Japan.

The issue is that while the EU as a whole is ready to deliver a 15 per cent cut, that will not apply to individual member states.

Some poorer nations who produce well below the union's average emissions will be allowed big increases over the 20-year period - 40 per cent in the case of Portugal, the biggest gainer.

Their gain will be made up by wealthier nations, notably Germany and the United Kingdom, which will be making cuts deeper than 15 per cent. Tiny Luxembourg, Europe's biggest climate polluter in per capita terms, stands ready to make a 30 per cent cut.

Other countries say this "sharing the pain" approach gives the EU states an unfair advantage.

Toshiaki Tonabe, Japan's senior negotiator and Tokyo's ambassador for global environmental affairs, said that in view of this it was only fair that the EU took on "a higher degree of responsibility" in tackling climate change.

He compared Japan to France, which produce roughly the same quantity of greenhouse gas emissions per head. Under the EU proposal, France would only have to stabilise its emissions at the 1990 level by 2010.

Why, then, should Japan have to make a 15 per cent cut? "The EU explanation of this is nowhere near complete," he said.

The representatives of about 160 nations gathered in Japan to negotiate a new treaty to reduce the dangers of global warming remain deeply divided.

However, there is growing confidence that deals will be done once ministers arrive at the weekend for the last few days of these talks.

The best guess is that developed nations will agree to make a cut in emissions of around 5 per cent by 2010, with a few let-outs for some smaller countries.