Not green enough: as G20 host, Japan faces uncomfortable criticism of its environmental record
- Campaigners have criticised Japan for moving too slowly on reducing plastic consumption
- Japan also faces growing scrutiny on climate change issues because of its continued use of coal
Activists say Japan has fallen behind on reducing plastic consumption and is caving to US pressure to water down language on climate change to achieve a unanimous statement on the issue.
The deal commits G20 members to reducing plastic waste but includes few details on how that will be achieved, proposing only voluntary steps and yearly progress reports.
But while campaigners say the agreement – the first on the issue bringing together rich and developing nations – is a “first step”, they argue it should be more ambitious.
“Legally binding international rules with clear timelines and goals” are needed, said Yukihiro Misawa, plastic policy manager of environmental group WWF Japan.
Experts welcomed part of the agreement that calls for research to better understand where plastic is coming from and how to tackle it.
“Scientific knowledge should be the foundation of an international deal, so that’s good,” said professor Atsuhiko Isobe of Kyushu University’s Centre for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.
Campaigners have criticised Japan for moving too slowly on reducing plastic consumption, particularly as the country produces more plastic waste per capita than any nation apart from the US.
Japan touts an enviable waste management system, and 86 per cent of its plastic waste is recycled.
But much of that “recycling” involves simply incinerating plastic, often to produce energy, a process that generates carbon dioxide and contributes to climate change.
Japan exports around 10 per cent of its plastic waste for recycling overseas. But research by environmentalists shows the waste can end up in the ocean or being burned improperly, emitting harmful pollutants.
Last month, Japan announced a new strategy to reduce plastic waste, including plans to eventually require retailers to charge for plastic bags, but that still leaves it far behind nations that have simply banned plastic bags and other single-use plastic outright.
“What is expected of Japan is to behave as a role model,” Isobe said.
Japan also faces growing scrutiny on climate change issues because of its continued use of coal.
It is one of nearly 200 nations that signed the Paris climate agreement, which commits signatories to efforts to cap global warming at “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.
But earlier this month, it said it would continue to rely on coal-burning power plants and set its target date for carbon-neutral status after 2050.
Greenpeace said that showed Japan was “not truly serious about mitigating climate change”.
And Tokyo will likely face additional pressure over the climate change portion of the G20 final communique.
A document described as a draft of the communique’s climate language omits any reference to reducing use of fossil fuels and removes wording in previous G20 statements describing the Paris deal as “irreversible”.
At last year’s G20, that phrase was included but not endorsed by the US, which added wording reiterating “its decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement”.
The draft document, which could change substantially before adoption, suggests an attempt to find neutral language that Washington can endorse, but activists said it would dilute international efforts.
“The draft statement reflects how very weak is Japan’s willingness to fight against climate change and this risks undermining global efforts,” said Kimiko Hirata, director of Kiko Network Japan, an environmental group. “For this G20, members have to show strong leadership by committing to ambitious actions.”
France’s President Emmanuel Macron has already said he will not sign any statement that does not include ambitious climate language, calling the issue a “red line”.