Japan's new CO2 goal dismays UN climate conference

Reuters

* Japan waters down CO2 emissions target after Fukushima

* Says move inevitable after nuclear power plants shut

* Chinese talks delegate: 'No way of describing dismay'

* European Union, UN, campaign groups among Tokyo's critics (Adds United Nations, details)

By Elaine Lies and Stian Reklev

TOKYO/WARSAW, Nov 15 (Reuters) - China, the EU andenvironmentalists criticised Japan at U.N. climate talks onFriday for slashing its greenhouse gas emissions target afterits nuclear power industry was shuttered by the Fukushimadisaster.

The Japanese government on Friday decided to target a 3.8percent emissions cut by 2020 versus 2005 levels. That amountsto a 3 percent rise from a U.N. benchmark year of 1990 and thereversal of the previous target of a 25 percent reduction.

"Given that none of the nuclear reactors is operating, thiswas unavoidable," Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara said.

Japan's 50 nuclear plants were closed on safety concernsafter the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami wrecked theFukushima reactors northeast of Tokyo. Nuclear accounted for 26percent of Japan's electricity generation and its loss hasforced the country to import natural gas and coal, causing itsgreenhouse gas emissions to skyrocket.

Japan's new policy was widely criticised in Warsaw, wheresome 190 nations are meeting from Nov. 11-22 to work on a globalclimate pact, due to be agreed in 2015.

China's climate negotiator Su Wei said: "I have no way ofdescribing my dismay" about the revised target.

The European Union also expressed disappointment and said itexpected all nations to stick to promised cuts as part ofefforts to halt global warming.

"It is regrettable," Christiana Figueres, the U.N.'s climatechief, told Reuters of Japan's goal. But she predicted thatJapan's planned investments in energy efficiency and renewablepower would prove that the target could be toughened.

"This move by Japan could have a devastating impact," saidNaoyuki Yamagishi of environmental campaign group WWF Japan. "Itcould further accelerate the race to the bottom among otherdeveloped countries."

Climate Analytics, a think-tank, said Japan could stillachieve a 17-18 percent CO2 reduction from 2005 levels by 2020even if it replaced nuclear with its current fossil fuel mix.

GLOOM

Japan's decision added to gloom at the Warsaw talks, whereno major countries have announced more ambitious goals to cutemissions, despite warnings from scientists about the risks ofmore heatwaves, droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

Poor nations want the rich to commit to deeper emissionscuts while providing more finance to help developing nationsdeal with the impacts of climate change, a major issue at thetalks after the Philippines was devastated by typhoon Haiyan,one of the most powerful ever recorded.

Australia has been criticised for watering down its climatepolicies, and Brazil reported on Thursday a rise in the rate ofdeforestation in the Amazon - releasing more CO2 that had beenstored in trees.

Natural-gas consumption by Japan's 10 utilities was up 8.4percent in October from a year earlier and coal use was up 4.4percent as the companies used more fossil fuels to compensatefor the nuclear shutdown, industry data showed on Friday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe advocates a return to nuclear, butsays he wants to reduce Japan's reliance on it over time. Theprocess of restarting reactors will begin next year at theearliest and some will never come back on line due to safetyconcerns.

With Abe facing opposition to nuclear power even from withinhis own party, the weaker emissions commitment could be anargument for restarting reactors, given that Japan for decadeshas touted the technology as clean energy.

The Japanese delegation got a standing ovation when itarrived at U.N. climate talks in Bangkok in 2009, weeks afterthen-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama announced the 25 percenttarget, the most ambitious by any major developed nation.

"Our energy mix, including the use of nuclear power, iscurrently being reviewed. In that context, we decided to setthis target at this point," Chief Cabinet Secretary YoshihideSuga said of the new goal.

Hiroshi Minami, Japan's chief negotiator at the U.N. talks,said the new goal "is based on zero nuclear power" in future. Hesaid the original target was based on a nuclear share of morethan 40 percent of electricity generation.

The nuclear shutdown could prove convenient for Abe in thatit allows his government to abandon a target that some said wastoo optimistic. "Anyone could have seen that this was justimpossible," said energy analyst Akira Ishii.

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---------------------------------------------> (Additional reporting by Michael Szabo and Alister Doyle inWARSAW and Osamu Tsukimori in TOKYO; Writing by William Mallard;Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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