TOKYO - Japan's greenhouse gas emissions tumbled 6.2 percent last year in a new sign on Wednesday that recession is doing the job of cutting emissions while the world struggles toward a U.N. pact to combat climate change.
In Singapore, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged countries in Asia and the Pacific region to embrace green growth but predicted a new accord to slow global warming may not be easy at talks in Copenhagen from December 7-18.
Japan's greenhouse gas emissions fell to 1.286 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in the year to March 2009 from a revised 1.371 billion metric tons in 2007/2008, a record high.
The latest figure is closer to the Japanese government's promise under the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol to limit emissions to 1.19 billion metric tons a year until 2012. Japan is the fifth biggest emitter after China, the United States, Russia and India.
The figure suggests we're currently at levels sufficiently (low) enough to achieve the target, said Yasuo Takahashi, head of the environment ministry's climate change policy division.
But we're not saying that we no longer need to carry out the emission-cut plans, he said of measures meant to curb rising temperatures and more droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, floods and rising seas.
The International Energy Agency has projected that the economic downturn may cut global emissions by up to 3 percent this year. Last month, the U.S. government projected a 6 percent fall in U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide in 2009.
Many experts say the declines may be only a brief respite from a rising global trend and that pressing economic problems may distract from Copenhagen. U.S. unemployment rose to 10.2 percent in October, the highest since 1983.
Clinton, addressing ministers from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Singapore which includes China and the United States, urged green investments to help create jobs.
We must cooperate to turn the threat of climate change into an opportunity for clean-energy growth, she said, urging plans that would lead to an explosion of new investment and generate millions of new jobs.
And she called for continued resolve on Copenhagen. We also need to remind ourselves that a final deal will not necessarily come quickly or easily, she said.
Disputes about distributing curbs on emissions among rich and poor nations, and on how to raise billions of dollars to fund the fight against global warming, have been roadblocks toward Copenhagen.
And many nations view President Barack Obama as central to unlocking a deal -- the United States is the only developed nation outside Kyoto, but the U.S. Senate is unlikely to agree legislation this year to cap emissions.
On Tuesday, U.S. Senator John Kerry said he would try to outline a compromise climate bill that will hopefully put us in a position to go to Copenhagen with a framework or outline of where the Senate will be heading in legislation.
Lack of a firm U.S. target for cutting emissions could mean other nations sit on the fence in Copenhagen, arguing they cannot be expected to act without certainty that Washington will too.
In Berlin, German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen said in a speech to parliament that there was no point looking beyond Copenhagen. The United Nations says it will take more time in 2010 to nail down a legally binding text.
There is no alternative to success at the climate summit in Copenhagen. There is no second option, no plan B, he said.
Success is clear CO2 reduction targets that flow from the recognition that global warming must be limited to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius, he said.
(With reporting by David Fogarty in Singapore and Noah Barkin in Berlin, writing by Alister Doyle, editing by Mark Trevelyan)