Japan lawmakers declare climate emergency after government sets zero emissions goal

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese lawmakers on Thursday declared a climate emergency in a symbolic vote aimed at increasing pressure for action to combat global warming after the government last month committed to a firm timetable for net-zero emissions.

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With the vote by parliament’s powerful lower chamber, Japan - the world’s fifth-biggest carbon emitter - joins fellow Group of Seven members Britain, Canada and France in similar resolutions, as well as the European Union as a bloc and nearly 2,000 regional and city authorities around the world.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga last month announced Japan would aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, a major shift for the world’s third-largest economy which relies heavily on imported fossil fuels for its energy sources.

The emergency, non-binding declaration - drafted by a cross-party group of legislators - cites “unprecedented damage” from hurricanes, flooding and forest fires, exacerbated by climate change at home and abroad, and said the world faces a “climate crisis”.

With erratic weather patterns from this year’s record hurricane season in the Atlantic to floods in Europe being linked to climate change, governments around the world face more calls to act even as the coronavirus pandemic rages, sapping resources.

Ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yoshihisa Furukawa, head of the secretariat of a non-partisan group of MPs behind the declaration, said the resolution was vital to show the world Japan was not lagging in the fight against global warming.

“I think this can send the message to the world that Japan’s parliament and government are firmly resolved to tackle this aiming at a carbon-free society,” he told Reuters, speaking before the vote.

The government is developing measures including investment funds and tax incentives to push through changes needed to reach the net zero emissions target, and Furukawa said the declaration would give impetus to those efforts given its non-partisan backing.

Japan’s new target for carbon neutrality could open the way for its beleaguered nuclear industry to fire up again, nearly a decade after the Fukushima disaster shut down most reactors, although the public remains wary. Nuclear provided about 30% of Japan’s electricity before Fukushima, when the country had 54 operable reactors compared with just two operating now.

Announcing the new emissions target, Prime Minister Suga said Japan would “pursue nuclear power” along with introducing as much renewable energy as possible, without specifying precise plans for reactors.

Still, frustrated scientists and activists have regularly sounded warnings that action is still lagging to meet the Paris Agreement target of curbing emissions enough to keep temperature rises to within 1.5-2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels.

(Graphic: Japan's annual carbon emissions, )

Reporting by Linda Sieg, Aaron Sheldrick and Ami Miyazaki; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell