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Record Increase of Japan's CO2 Levels

written by: Nicky LaMarco•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 11/29/2008

Although some CO2 is natural and even beneficial, our factories and motor vehicles have dramatically increased those levels. Now Japan is reporting their highest levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in history which could pose a threat not only to their citizens but to the rest of the world as well.

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    Japan’s CO2 Problem

    Although small in size, Japan is the fifth largest producer of CO2 in the world. In 2008, their carbon dioxide emissions rose another 2.3% and put them at risk of not meeting the guidelines established by the Kyoto Protocols, a framework developed through the UN to bring global pollution under control and ironically named for the Japanese city in which they were first negotiated. Under those guidelines, Japan needs to cut overall carbon dioxide emissions by 13.5% by 2012.

    In 2007, greenhouse emissions in the island nation had actually gone down by 1.3% but this year’s increase may partially stem from the forced closure of one of the country’s largest nuclear power plants after it was damaged by a serious earthquake. The problem may also be increased because Japan has not taken steps other countries have, such as putting mandatory caps on emissions by companies or charging companies who go over set limits.

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    Worldwide Issues

    All eyes are turning towards Japan to see how the country deals with this problem. Some countries, particularly those in developing regions of the world, are concerned because Japan does not seem willing or able to control their own emissions or to “rein in” heavy emitters such as India, China, and the United States. All three of those countries are not attempting to reach the Kyoto 2012 emission reduction targets.

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    Efforts by Japan to Reduce Emissions

    While this year saw an increase in the country’s overall emission levels, Japan has been working on ways to lower its release of carbon dioxide into the environment. One of those efforts has been to encourage the construction of nuclear power plants because of their lower emissions. Unfortunately, the earthquake damage that forced the closure of the Tokyo Electric Power Co’s plant underscores the potential risk of such efforts. Many companies in the power business worry that the nuclear plants could become a safety hazard thanks to earthquakes and other problems. While plans for a new nuclear power plant have been delayed again, two new coal plants are under construction in the country which emphasizes to many why Japan needs to implement tighter government controls. Another reason why the nuclear solution will not work is that the mining and processing of uranium that is used in the power plants produces as much contamination and greenhouse emissions as other power plants, which eliminates any potential benefit that could have been gained from a nuclear power plant and increases the risk of more long term, irreversible pollution.

    Instead, Japan has opted for a voluntary program that encourages companies to regulate themselves and to cut their emissions. Unfortunately, those voluntary levels set by the government may not be enough to help the country reach its Kyoto goals.