Tokyo irked by US stance on Kyoto

After US rejection of the environmental treaty, and another recent slight, Japan worries about its global role.

Coral reefs will die from water that's too hot. Polar bears will have less room to roam, crowding some of them out of existence. Birds will start flying an extra mile north each year, and may starve when they get there.

These are among the dire possible consequences of global warming, say climate-change experts. At no time was it clearer that countries should take steps to slow this process than when 150 countries signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

But now, with President George Bush saying the US will not ratify the protocol - which was shaped in part to fit Washington's concerns five years ago - the accord's ultimate effectiveness is in doubt, and many US allies are irritated.

For Japan, a nation of nature-lovers, the shaping of the accord on their soil was a source of pride - and proof that they were still relevant players on the world stage.

"It is absolutely inadmissible for the US, which is the greatest gas-emitting country, to once again turn its back and present something that is against Kyoto Protocol and the framework convention on climate change," says Mie Asaoka, president of the Kiko Network, a Tokyo environmental-umbrella organization representing about 150 Japanese groups.

The clash over how to stop global warming while allowing sluggish economies to prosper occurs at an awkward point in US-Japanese relations. US analysts looking east say that as Japan's economic dominance in Asia diminishes, so will the importance of the US-Japan relationship as a whole.

The US Department of Defense recently left Japan off its list of nations contributing to the post-Sept. 11 war on terror. Realizing the accidental slight, the US later apologized for overlooking Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's efforts - considered tremendously ambitious here - to alter the interpretation of Japan's post-World War II pacifist constitution in order to dispatch warships for noncombat support.

During Mr. Bush's visit here last month, Mr. Koizumi gently balked at the president's proposed alternative to the Kyoto agreement, saying that Japan would "like to see further efforts" on the part of the US.

While there are no protesters in the streets, there is an air of indignation here over Washington's "do-it-our-way" decision on something that effects the whole globe.

Among the Kiko Network's handouts is a pamphlet with a cartoon of the world. On one end, Koizumi defensively holds up the Kyoto Protocol. On the other, a fiendish-looking Bush seizes a weeping globe in his monster-size hands.

In the eyes of Japan and many US allies, the Bush administration's decision not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol is one of many signals that Washington is growing increasingly unilateralist in the six months since the Sept. 11 attacks on America. From pulling out of Kyoto - which is in the process of being ratified by the European Union - to labeling Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an "axis of evil" and prime targets in the next phase of the war, America's allies are seeing in the US a growing tendency to act first and consult later.

The Bush administration is offering its own alternative plan, the Clear Skies and Global Climate Change Initiatives, which aides say are more market-sensitive and will reduce the worst air pollutants by 70 percent while finding a strategy to cut greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent over the next 10 years.

But environmental advocates say Bush's alternative will allow the US to continue to increase the amount of gas it emits. They fear that, because the US is forging its own way, smaller nations that are expected to ratify the Kyoto Protocol could start backing out. This could lead to a two-tier system in which the US and a few others - Australia and Canada may follow suit - will choose their own targets, while the rest of the world will be limited to the stricter Kyoto limits.

Not everyone in Japan is upset with Bush's alternative.

Japanese industry has already gone through vigorous energy-saving - and thus environmentally friendly - drives after the two energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s, says Mitsuru Shinozaki, a spokesman for Keidanren, the country's most influential business lobby. After the Earth Summit of 10 years ago, he says, Japan discussed and implemented a self-action plan to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. "Any further policy to reduce emissions," he says "will hurt Japanese industrial competitiveness."

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