The surprise resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyamo this week will have no impact on the country’s pledge to give $15 billion to poor nations by 2012 to cope with climate change, a Japanese official said on Thursday.
"I’d like to stress that Japan will keep [that] commitment," Akira Yamada, of Japan’s foreign ministry, told reporters at the United Nations climate change talks in Bonn.
The announcement should allay fears that an already lackluster climate financing package — struck in the 11th hour of the Copenhagen climate change negotiations — will be further diminished.
Hatoyama, who was prime minister of Japan for nine months, promised the climate cash at the December summit as part of his "Hatoyama Initiative," a national carbon-regulation scheme that targets a 25 percent cut in global warming emissions below 1990 levels by 2020.
"I don’t know [if] the name ‘Hatoyama Initiative’ [will] continue," Yamada, deputy director general of the ministry’s international cooperation bureau, said with a grin. "But I’m very sure that this initiative to help assist developing countries [will] continue steadily."
Yamada said that as of April 30, Japan had already allocated — and partially dispersed — roughly $5.3 billion to poor nations, or one-third of the nation’s total commitment, to support 250 climate-fighting projects worldwide.
More than 95 percent of that total will finance mitigation policies for curbing greenhouse gases. Around $225 million, Yamada said, will flow to the world’s most vulnerable countries to help them adapt to a warmer world.
Some $4 billion of the sum is public money from the government budget, with the rest coming from private funding sources. In total, $11 billion of the country’s $15 billion handout is expected to come from public coffers.
"We are not talking about a pledge … we are talking about a result," Yamada said on the allocated funds.
The suggestion was that Japan is a lot further along on financing than other rich countries.
‘New and Additional’ Climate Pledges?
The Copenhagen summit ended in the non-binding Copenhagen Accord, with a fast-start financing commitment from the wealthy world of "new and additional resources" of about $30 billion by 2012.
News of Hatoyama’s resignation triggered fears among advocates that Japan may try to renege on delivering its huge piece of that pie, putting the already fragile financing pact in danger. In the wake of the announcement, some environmental groups sent out e-mail alerts, urging members to call on Japan to uphold its commitment.
Observers see the fast-start money as vital to help repair the broken trust between developed and developing countries on the road to Cancun, the next major UN climate summit in November.
So far, countries’ commitments have been unclear at best.
On Thursday, during a presentation in Bonn, the EU sought to clarify its $10.6 billion quick-start pledge. It said it had already allocated $1.9 billion for mitigation and adaptation efforts. According to the bloc, the financing is all fresh money and is not relabeled dollars from older aid budgets.
Green groups, who have cried foul over the lack of transparency on fast-start commitments, welcomed the announcement but are expected to be skeptical. For them, it is absolutely vital that climate aid — designed to shrink emissions and combat rising seas, floods and other climate disasters in poor nations — will be added to existing pots of development money, not taken from them.
When asked if Japan’s fast-start money was new and additional, Yamada sidestepped.
It "depends on your definition of new and additional," he said, adding that what’s more important for Japan, poor nations and the planet is "if our assistance money is utilized well."
According to an analysis by the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental research group, $1 billion of the $11 billion in public money pledged by Japan is new. The remaining amount was previously granted under the "Cool Earth Partnership," a financial mechanism set up in 2008 to help poorer nations slash their carbon output.
Yamada said that Hatoyama started a supplementary budget — something "totally new" — for grants for climate change adaptation that developing nations can tap to deal with the ravages of natural disasters.
The U.S., meanwhile, has pledged about $1.8 billion in international climate finance between 2010 and 2011, under the Obama administration’s budget.
Yamada: ‘I’m Not a Prophet’
Reaching the $30 billion fast-start mark by 2012 "is possible," Yamada said, adding that "we have to show our good will to developing countries."
However, he added, "I’m not a prophet."
"I’m sure that Japan will keep its commitment. I’m not in the position of judging other countries. Naturally we hope that other countries do the same thing," he told reporters.
On top of the cash, Yamada also tried to quiet rumors that the resignation of Hatoyama, who quit over a broken election pledge he made to relocate U.S. troops, would derail efforts to push through proposed climate legislation.
The bill, which includes a carbon trading scheme, needs to gain parliamentary approval before elections on July 11, a prospect that seems remote at the moment.
Inded, Yamada suggested delay is likely.
"Time is running out," he said. "We don’t know" if it will get passed, though he suggested it could pass in the fall. In any case, there will not be "any major change on the policy of climate change" in international negotiations, he said.
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