TOKYO (AFP) - Japan will study introducing a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions, officials said Thursday, as the business community hinted it will back down on its opposition amid global pressure.
Japan, despite its advocacy of the Kyoto Protocol named after its ancient capital, is far behind on meeting its own obligations under the treaty as its economy recovers from recession in the 1990s.
Japan is hoping to show its role as a leader in the fight against global warming when it hosts the summit of the Group of Eight major industrial nations in July at the northern mountain resort of Toyako.
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda recently announced a panel on the environment, which the government said late Wednesday would look at carbon trade.
The trade ministry is also considering setting up a panel on the idea, a trade ministry official said Thursday.
"We are preparing to set up a panel on the premise of introducing a cap-and-trade system," he said.
A carbon-trading system sets a cap on the amount of pollutants companies can emit and then forces heavy polluters to buy credits from companies that pollute less -- creating financial incentives to fight global warming.
Japan has until now said it could meet its Kyoto obligations through voluntary efforts, which have included a high-profile drive to encourage people to dress warmly in winter and shed excess clothing in summer.
The Japan Business Federation, the country's influential business lobby, signaled it would drop its opposition to mandatory caps on emissions.
"For the success of the Toyako Summit, Japan, which is chair of the summit, needs to think about the issue based on global trends," said federation chairman Fujio Mitarai, who is also chief executive of camera and equipment maker Canon Inc.
"Each country has already been making efforts in reducing emission of carbon dioxide, which is a global challenge," Mitarai told a gathering of business people Wednesday in the western town of Oita.
Yvo de Boer, the UN climate chief, met with business leaders last week on a visit to Tokyo to discuss caps on greenhouse gas emissions.
"While nearly all industrialised countries have commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and are working towards a cap-and-trade approach, there is still considerable industry opposition to this in Japan," de Boer said on his visit.
The European Union has a carbon emissions trading system, while major US presidential candidates and a growing number of local US governments support a carbon trading market.
The United States is the only major industrial country to reject the Kyoto Protocol, arguing it is unfair by making no demands of emerging economies.
To the dismay of environmentalists, Japan allied with the United States at a UN conference in December in Bali to resist calls to set a clear numerical ambition for emission cuts after Kyoto's obligations expire at the end of 2012.
But Fukuda said last month that Japan planned to set its own national goal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions after 2012.
The European Union has unilaterally set a goal of slashing carbon emissions by 20 to 30 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels and has offered to go further if other major economies join the effort.