Fierce winter cold and snow used to be the primary weather risks facing the 5.7 million residents of Hokkaido in northern Japan. That changed last year. The snow that arrived in December, some Sapporo citizens said, was different - the falls were lighter and sporadic, and interrupted by occasional showers. A few months ago, Hokkaido recorded its hottest summer in 80 years, with temperatures hitting 35 degrees Celsius in some places. The heatwave reportedly killed some elderly people and prompted an increasing number of people to install air conditioners in their homes, a rare move for Hokkaido citizens in the past. Some now predict air conditioning might become more popular in people's homes than renewable energy devices. Just weeks after Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda visited China and agreed to help the mainland with climate change technology, it seems Tokyo is battling on the home front with the environmental and social effects of climate change. Experts now say the warmer climate is shifting the energy usage pattern of Hokkaido residents, whose greenhouse gas emission per capita is already 1.4 times the national average. Hokkaido officials admit that rather than being on track to meet the target of a 9.2 per cent reduction in emissions from 1990 to 2010, the island's emission levels rose by 14.2 per cent in 2006. The chance of complying with the 2010 target now looks remote, unless the public and businesses - primarily the tourism and food sector - are better mobilised to change the way they use and conserve energy. At a national level, Japan, which accounts for 5 per cent of the world's emissions, has also reported missing the Kyoto Protocol 6 per cent reduction target, by over-emitting close to 7 per cent above the 1990 level. The nation is among other developed economies, including Spain and Portugal, that are yet to reverse the trend of rising emissions in their bid to satisfy the Kyoto requirements between 2008 and 2012. 'We are in a very difficult position now and there is intense debate going on within society on what more can be done,' said Yuzo Yagai, chief administrator of the climate change policy division of the Ministry of the Environment. The missed targets in Japan are partly due to a runaway rise in emissions in the commercial and household sectors, of 40 per cent and 30 per cent respectively over 1990 levels. Mr Yagai said increasing office automation and the proliferation of home appliances had resulted in more energy used than was being offset through measures such as energy-efficient products. Another problem unique to Japan was the temporary closure of some of its 54 nuclear power generation facilities, which have experienced technical problems and earthquake damage in recent years. These closures alone accounted for a huge portion of the excess emissions - about 3 per cent of the total 1.34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted in 2006. Nuclear power has played a vital role in keeping Japan running, providing one-third of the nation's energy supply. The largest operator, Tokyo Electric Power, runs 17 plants, which have helped to stop the production of 78 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year However, poor positioning of sites on or near fault lines has fed public scepticism about nuclear power. Last July, a quake rocked a nuclear power station in Niigata prefecture, leading to the closure of reactor units and subsequent power shortage in Tokyo. 'The public must understand that nuclear power is a necessity. But we can't help it that opposition surfaces every time there is a nuclear power plant incident,' said Issei Takaki, a spokesman for the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power station. While reopening some of the reactors remains uncertain, plans for new reactors have been met with increasing resistance by local authorities and the long-term plan to boost the nuclear energy usage rate to 40 per cent has been thrown into uncertainty. To try to meet reduction targets by 2012, tough measures have been suggested by the cabinet, including a domestic emissions trading scheme designed for up to 150 major manufacturing facilities. A carbon tax - proposed at 600-700 yen (HK$43-HK$51) per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted - will also be imposed on product and services providers, in the hope that customer demand will shift to eco-products. Complementing the tax measure is a proposed scheme to have the carbon footprint of products and services labelled to help consumers pick the ones with least impact. Japan also plans to strengthen forestry management to help absorb more carbon dioxide and intends to buy up to 100 million tonnes of emission-reduction credits through the UN's clean development mechanism in the long term. Nippon Steel alone has secured 11 million tonnes of credits through its two joint-venture steel mills in China. All the proposals were raised last year for public consultation before former prime minister Shinzo Abe stepped down in September. Although the replacement of Mr Abe with Mr Fukuda may have little impact on the overall direction pursued, no concrete decision will be made until March. But some of the proposals have already attracted strong opposition from business and industry heavyweights. They have expressed fears that further emission regulations or taxes might mean losing their international competitive edge, particularly to China or India, and may trigger the relocation of production lines overseas. The worries are borne out by the steelmaking sector, which, although it accounts for 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the nation's total emissions, views itself as the most energy-efficient steel industry in the world. Nippon Steel, which has lost the title of world's biggest steelmaker to India's Mittal Steel, has strongly opposed the proposed carbon tax and domestic emissions-trading scheme. 'If all countries imposed the same tax, it would be fine. But if it is not introduced in China or India it will be detrimental to our international competitiveness,' said Hironobu Hose, group manager of the company's environmental relations department. Mr Hose said emission trading was only a market mechanism in disguise, effectively instructing industries on how much energy they could use. Branding it a 'speculative money game', Mr Hose said the European emissions-trading market could only benefit financial agencies, pointing out that only 50 out of 11,000 transactions were related to manufacturing facilities. Mr Hose said Nippon Steel, consuming 4 per cent to 5 per cent of Japan's total energy, had invested massively in research to cut energy use and recycle materials, enabling the company almost to meet a target of 10 per cent emissions cuts. He warned that an emission trading scheme would only divert research money away from finding new technological breakthroughs. Were existing technologies adopted by all steelmakers across the world, it was estimated that up to 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions could be avoided, representing one-thirteenth of the world total, he said. However, it might be financially difficult for developing nations to obtain the technologies developed and used by t big players in the industry. Many like Nippon Steel believed that such a transfer of technology was, in fact, the jurisdiction of business and not part of government assistance, he said. Koji Tsuruoka, director-general for global issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said emerging economies and major greenhouse gas emitters such as China and India should be financially capable of adopting the technologies. 'These [technologies] are business commodities. The investment and intellectual property is privately owned. Perhaps [the Japanese government] can buy them and give it to these countries. But why do we have to do this? Indian businesses are doing very well now,' he said. Mr Tsuruoka said Japan went through a painful process of cleaning up environmental pollution and saving energy in the past, and repeated that the present global warming challenges needed concerted international efforts to address them. In the 1970s and 80s, Japanese manufacturers could still rely on expansion to cover the costs of innovation in energy savings and materials recycling, which allowed Japan to double its GDP while keeping oil consumption steady. But the scope for marginal improvement is getting smaller and perhaps even more costly. 'Meeting the target of 14 per cent emissions cutbacks is almost impossible. It may be achieved either if our population or the economy shrinks by 14 per cent. But this is not acceptable,' he said. Mr Tsuroka said global co-operation was needed to address climate change and one's neglect might be detrimental to others, particularly to developing nations. 'When you look at this global challenge, it will affect all of us. But the developed nations will be able to cope with the impact much better than developing countries, which do not have the capacity,' he said.