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The Week in Green Vehicles
Mike Millikin, 14 Nov 04

Every Sunday, Green Car Congress' Mike Millikin gives us an update on the week's sustainable mobility news. Green Car Congress is by far the best resource around for news and analysis covering the ongoing evolution of personal transportation. Take it away, Mike:

This week saw the release of important reports and policy developments in climate change—one of the two primary and inter-related drivers pushing us to sustainable mobility. (The other being energy security and supply.)

First, two major reports assessing climate change and its current and future effects on the US and the world were published. (GCC post.) The first is the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment—a comprehensively researched, fully referenced and independently reviewed evaluation of arctic climate change and its impacts. (And stunning visually. It’s one of the best jobs I’ve seen of presenting and explaining such material.) (WorldChanging post.) The second is The Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s Observed Impacts of Global Climate Change in the US. (WorldChanging post.) The bottom line is that climate change is already occuring and more rapidly than many expected, especially in the arctic.

Both reports stress the need for emissions reductions—not as a way to stop warming, but as a way to slow it, and to mitigate the damage already being done. Transportation, is, of course, a key contributor to CO2 emissions, and a good place to look for reduction.

If the focus of the just-concluded Tokyo Motor Show is any indication, fuel efficiency and carbon reduction are very much on the minds of the Japanese automakers.

The Guardian carries a good, brief wrap-up of the event, highlighting some of the emissions control approaches taken by Nissan, Isuzu, Mazda and Toyota—and touches on a larger problem. Japan, one of the signatories of the Kyoto treaty, and the host of the 1997 UN convention on climate control, is actually going in the opposite direction—i.e., more emissions, not less.

Far from meeting its own commitment to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 6% from 1990 levels by 2010, Japan saw emissions rise to 8% above 1990 levels at the end of last year. The transport sector accounts for an estimated fifth of the total.

Nudged into action by mounting criticism of its record on greenhouse gases, the government is about to give the car industry a push of its own with the introduction next October of stricter emissions regulations next year and, in [January] 2006, of a controversial carbon tax.

For Japan to meet the Kyoto targets, it will now have to reduce emissions by 14%. The announcement of the carbon tax last Friday (5 Nov) was an important policy step in that direction, but stirred up dissension on both sides, and the proposal has now been withdrawn for "more discussion." (GCC post.)

Processors and importers of such fuels as gasoline, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas, for example, would have to pay 2,400 yen per ton of carbon contained in the fuel—a burden they are expected to pass on in the retail price.

It is estimated that households would have to pay about 3,000 yen a year on average for their use of electricity, gasoline for automobiles and other fuel. For example, consumers are expected to pay 1.5 yen more per liter of gasoline, the [Environment] ministry said.

Three thousand yen works out to about $28. The original proposal from the Environment was for 3,400¥/ton ($32/ton), but it was reduced and the burden on industry was reduced to minimize opposition. That opposition, nevertheless, appeared.

At an environmental panel meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Friday last week, questions about the tax were aired. One panel member said, “If the environment tax is levied, industry’s competitiveness against China and other countries will be weakened.”

The Japan Business Federation and the industrial community, including the Japan Iron and Steel Federation, have already expressed their opposition to the new tax.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and relevant lawmakers are also against it.

But civic groups that have been seeking the introduction of the tax have reacted bitterly to the Environment Ministry’s compromise to the industry.

Jiro Adachi, secretary general of the Carbon Tax Research Society, a nongovernmental organization based in Tokyo, said, “The tax rate is too low, and as there are many reduction measures it is questionable whether the tax can actually reduce emissions.”

As the Guardian points out, one of the real obstacles is the buying populace.

Even if they learn to love hybrid, natural gas, fuel cell, or any of the other greener vehicles in the works, the Japanese are unlikely to make meeting their Kyoto emissions targets any easier by driving less, at least not while ownership of a new car signifies fully fledged membership of a society dominated by a large, image-conscious middle class.

It’s a global problem.

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