KARUIZAWA, June 16 -- The Group of 20 major economies agreed Sunday on the creation of an international framework that calls on members to take voluntary steps to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean, one of the world's most pressing environmental threats.
The agreement came after a two-day meeting of G-20 environment and energy ministers at which discussions also focused on energy security after attacks on two oil tankers in the Middle East that sparked a surge in oil prices. "Marine litter, especially marine plastic litter and microplastics, is a matter requiring urgent action given its adverse impacts on marine ecosystems, livelihoods, and industries including fisheries, tourism, and shipping, and potentially on human health," said a communique issued following the meeting in the central Japan resort town of Karuizawa. Japanese Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada, who co-chaired the meeting, called the agreement a "major achievement" in the lead-up to a G-20 leaders' summit later this month. "We will continue to vigorously seek solutions to such global issues," he told a press conference. The ministers stressed the importance of realizing a "virtuous cycle" of environmental protection and economic growth, driven by "breakthrough innovation" in the private sector with support from governments.
But the participants were not on the same page on all of the environmental issues, with the United States, which has announced its withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, refusing to endorse a commitment in the communique to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The document ended up suggesting that countries, excluding the United States, reaffirm their promises to fully implement the accord that aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures to well below 2 C compared with preindustrial levels to mitigate the impact of climate change, such as droughts, floods and rising sea levels. "There are countries that would like to go make some statements on the Paris climate accord in these documents here this weekend. I don't know that that's really the appropriate place for that discussion," Andrew Wheeler, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told reporters prior to the release of the communique. Discussions on plastic waste were much less fraught, with the ministers in agreement that the issue needs to be quickly addressed. Under the international framework, each country will report progress on its voluntary measures and share solutions. Plastic waste that ends up in the oceans often ensnares or is ingested by marine animals such as dolphins and sea turtles. Microplastics measuring less than 5 millimeters can accumulate in fish, making them toxic for humans. About 300 million tons of plastic waste is produced every year, of which 8 million tons end up in the world's oceans, according to the United Nations. Most of that waste comes from Asian countries including G-20 members China and Indonesia. Japanese industry minister Hiroshige Seko, who co-chaired the meeting with Harada, announced on Saturday that his country will aim to require businesses to charge for disposable shopping bags by next April to help reduce waste. Many countries in the world already charge for single-use bags or ban them outright. The communique also made reference to the attacks Thursday on two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, an incident that reignited concern over tensions in the Middle East and sent global oil prices jumping. Citing "recent developments highlighting concern about energy security," the ministers stressed the importance of preventing energy supply disruptions and facilitating stable markets.
The G-20 consists of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
TOKYO, June 14 -- The Japanese operator of a tanker attacked near the Strait of Hormuz suggested Friday the vessel was hit by an incoming projectile, not by torpedo.
Some crew members of the Kokuka Courageous, which was attacked twice in the major shipping route Thursday, have said they "witnessed a flying object" at the moment of the second attack, said Yutaka Katada, president of the Tokyo-based operator Kokuka Sangyo Co., at a press conference. Katada said it is unlikely that the tanker was attacked "because the attacker thought it was a Japanese vessel," saying the ship was flying the national flag of Panama while sailing. The Kokuka Courageous was carrying 25,000 tons of methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore when it was attacked in the Gulf of Oman, near the Fujairah port of the United Arab Emirates, according to the company.
All 21 Filipino crew members of the ship escaped in life rafts and were rescued by a U.S. Navy vessel, but they have returned to the ship and restored the reserve power system. One of the crew was slightly injured but is improving, Katada said. The tanker, currently being towed to Khor Fakkan in the eastern part of the UAE, faces no danger of sinking or losing its freight or fuel, according to the company. The tanker had become unable to move on its own as its engine room became inoperable due to being filled with carbon dioxide, which crew members injected to prevent a fire before retreating, Katada said, adding the crew have already started discharging CO2. Katada said the company will "continue to operate" its vessels around the Persian Gulf "unless the sea route is blocked."
TOKYO, June 11 -- Japan's Cabinet approved Tuesday a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions to zero in the second half of the 21st century, as part of the country's strategy to fight global warming.
Renewable energy such as solar and wind will be the mainstay of Japan's energy use to achieve the goal, though coal-fired power plants will remain operational, a policy criticized by some energy experts as insufficient to cut carbon dioxide emissions significantly. Japan plans to present the strategy to the United Nations by late June when it hosts the Group of 20 summit, as required under the Paris Agreement. The 2015 climate accord aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures to an ideal 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. Japan and Italy are the only nations among the Group of Seven countries that have not presented a strategy.
"Action against climate change is not a cost to the economy but a growth strategy toward the future," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday. "We will create a virtuous cycle and lead the paradigm shift of the world's climate policy." The strategy will also rely on nuclear power generation, even as concerns remain about the safety of nuclear plants after the 2011 Fukushima crisis. It calls for greater use of hydrogen to reduce dependency on nuclear power to the "lowest use possible" and developing advanced technology to improve power generation efficiency. A draft plan at a panel tasked with compiling the strategy urged scrapping all coal-fired plants in the long term. But the idea was dropped after meeting strong opposition from certain panel members from the business sector, drawing criticism from some environmental organizations. Under the long-term energy plan, the government aims to have renewables account for 22 to 24 percent, fossil fuels 56 percent and nuclear power 20 to 22 percent of the country's electricity generation in 2030.
TOKYO, June 8 -- The number of child births in Japan last year plunged to yet another new low, figures released on Friday (June 7) have shown, signaling the grave social obstacles that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will need to surmount to reverse the demographic trend.
Just 918,397 babies were born last year, the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry announced, in what was the third straight year the number of newborns fell below the one million psychological barrier.
Total births dropped by 27,668 - or 2.9 per cent - from 2017, while total deaths rose 22,085 to 1,362,482 people in what was the largest margin of deaths over births on record. The latest data comes amid increasing scrutiny over the child-rearing environment in Japan, with a recent spate of horrific child abuse incidents that have led the government to introduce measures to ban corporal punishment of kids. Last month, a 45-year-old father in Fukuoka was arrested for using a shock collar to discipline his three children, while last week, a 21-year-old mother and her 24-year-old boyfriend in Sapporo were arrested after her two-year-old daughter was found dead. She had suffered bruising and appeared to have been malnourished.
The falling number of births also comes despite a push-back by Mr Abe's government over longstanding work practices that discriminate against working mothers in a bid to create a more conducive environment for child-rearing. Japan already has one of the world's most generous parental leave packages, with mothers and fathers qualifying for up to a year of parental leave over which they can earn nearly 80 per cent of their salaries. Mr Abe has also enacted reforms to impose caps on overtime work and encourage measures like flexi-work. Last month, the government enacted laws to make pre-school education free for all children aged three to five, as well as to provide free daycare services for children aged up to two from low-income families. "The financial burden of education and child-rearing weighs heavily on young people, becoming a bottleneck for them to give birth and raise children. That is why we are making (education) free," Mr Abe said last month. But the impact of the policies has not been felt by the society-at-large, which lambasted the wanton remarks made by at least two senior ruling Liberal Democratic Party politicians behooving them to uphold their societal responsibility and "give birth to at least three children". Many argue that such an ideal is unrealistic given the lack of childcare center slots and the general lack of support at the workplace. And then there is also the issue of stagnant wages that makes it prohibitively expensive for many to support a large family. A survey last month by Japanese non-profit 1 more Baby showed that 73.5 per cent found it difficult to have a second child. Eight in 10 cited economic hurdles to doing so.
"There's little sense that the environment for raising children has really improved," Japan Research Institute chief researcher Mika Ikemoto told the Nikkei. "The decline in birth rates is partly because it's become less clear to people that getting married and having children will make them happy." The average age last year of mothers giving birth for the first time was 30.7 years, indicative of a trend that people are not marrying at all, or marrying later. Tokyo said last month that it will no longer use the term "lifelong singles" to label those who are not married at 50. The national total fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman gives birth to, dipped by 0.01 point to 1.42 - well below Mr Abe's goal of 1.8 by March 2026 but above the 1.26 recorded in 2005. By prefecture, Okinawa had the highest fertility rate of 1.89 while Tokyo had the lowest, at 1.20.
SAPPORO, June 7 -- Japan will restart commercial whaling on July 1 in Kushiro, Hokkaido, after the government announced its withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission in December, a local fishery source said Friday.
Japan halted commercial whaling in line with a moratorium adopted in 1982 by the IWC. Since 1987 it has hunted whales for what it claims is research, a practice criticized internationally as a cover for commercial whaling. Following the withdrawal, Japan will hunt whales in nearby waters and within its exclusive economic zone but not in the Antarctic Ocean, where the country has carried out so-called "scientific whaling" for what it says are research purposes.
KAWASAKI, May 28 -- Sixteen pupils waiting for their school bus and two parents of pupils who were nearby were stabbed by a man wielding knives in Kawasaki near Tokyo on Tuesday morning, leaving a girl and a man dead, police and school officials said.
The 16 schoolgirls, pupils of Caritas elementary school, a private Catholic school in the city, were attacked by the suspect in his 50s, who was holding knives in both hands. The suspect died in hospital as a result of a self-inflicted stab wound to the neck, police said. A boy also sustained minor injuries in the attack, the police added. The incident occurred at around 7:40 a.m. on a street near a park in a residential area, about 250 meters from Noborito Station on East Japan Railway Co.'s Nambu Line and Odakyu Electric Railway Co.'s Odakyu Odawara Line.
Officials at the school, which provides eight shuttle buses for pupils between the station and the school every morning on school days, said things went as usual until the fifth service. "I was standing at the front of the line of children waiting for the sixth bus, and when I finished helping around six children board the bus, I heard children screaming at the end of the line," said a school official in a press conference. The official said that was when he saw the suspect, holding "long knife-like objects in both hands," escaping on foot. As the bus driver got off and started to chase him, the official made an emergency call to police, he said. "The children did nothing wrong. I don't know what to do with my anger," another official told the news conference. The school will close through the end of this month.
TOKYO, May 28 -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday inspected the helicopter-carrying destroyer Kaga at the Maritime Self-Defense Force base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, in a demonstration of the deepening alliance between Japan and the United States.
It was the first time a U.S. president has stepped aboard a Self-Defense Forces ship, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry. In an address to 500 Japanese and American troops, Abe said it was the first time the leaders of the two allies have together given words of encouragement to a combined group of their respective armed forces. "The Japan-U.S. alliance has become more robust than ever under the great partnership that President Trump and I have developed," Abe said on the final day of Trump's four-day state visit to Japan. Referring to a planned refurbishment of the Kaga, Abe expressed Japan's pledge to play its role "with unwavering commitment toward further strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance." Japan plans to convert the Kaga into a carrier able to deploy F-35B stealth fighter jets it has committed to purchase from the United States, a move made in response to the rise of China and its growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Abe thanked the U.S. forces in Japan for ensuring peace and stability and enhancing the regional deterrence provided by the alliance. Trump also underscored the strength of his nation's alliance with Japan and hailed its plan to purchase an additional 105 F-35As from the United States. "This purchase will give Japan the largest fleet of F-35s of any of our allies," he said. "And soon this very ship will be upgraded to carry that cutting-edge aircraft."
TOKYO, May 26 -- U.S. President Donald Trump attended a sumo tournament in Tokyo on Sunday, watching the action from a specially prepared seat near the ring, and will present an American-made trophy to the victor.
Trump was hosted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the final day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan. He is expected to climb into the raised ring to present the newly made trophy, informally dubbed the "Trump Cup," to the winner at the conclusion of the 15-day meet. While spectators in ringside boxes normally sit on cushions with their legs crossed, tradition has been cast aside for Trump and his wife Melania, who will watch the final five bouts of the tournament perched on the specially installed chairs alongside Abe and his wife Akie. Trump, who is known for being a fan of combat sports, said in April that he has "always found that (sumo) fascinating," and revealed he would present a custom-made trophy to the tournament's winner. The White House said Saturday the trophy is about 137-centimeters tall and weighs between 27 and 31 kilograms.
TOKYO, May 25 -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering visiting Iran in June for talks with its leadership to help ease escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, government sources said.
Abe is expected to make a final decision after consulting with U.S. President Donald Trump, who is scheduled to arrive in Japan as a state guest on Saturday. Abe would be the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit Iran since Takeo Fukuda in 1978. As Japan has traditionally maintained amicable ties with Iran, Abe hopes to encourage Tehran to keep its commitments under a 2015 international nuclear deal, according to the sources. Abe expressed concern about the U.S.-Iran standoff but offered to work with Tehran during a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tokyo last week. The Japanese government weighed the possibility of Abe visiting Iran last summer but gave up on the idea out of consideration for Washington.
On Friday, Abe met with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton at the prime minister's office and discussed the situation surrounding Iran, a Japanese government source said. Iran said earlier this month it plans to produce more low-enriched uranium than allowed under the nuclear deal initially sealed with the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China. Tehran has set a 60-day deadline to negotiate new terms. The announcement came as the Trump administration has been hardening its stance on Tehran, pulling out of the nuclear deal and reinstating crippling sanctions. Washington has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf, ratcheting up tensions. Tokyo, a longtime U.S. security ally, has been put in a difficult position. The United States has ended its sanctions waivers granted to Japan and other buyers of Iranian oil. Iran has traditionally been one of the major oil exporters to resource-poor Japan.
WASHINGTON, May 23 -- U.S. President Donald Trump will not focus heavily on trade during his four-day state visit to Japan beginning Saturday, a senior administration official said Wednesday, suggesting the two governments are unlikely to reach an agreement during the trip.
In a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month in Washington, Trump said the two sides may strike a trade deal by the time of his visit to Japan in May for a meeting with new Emperor Naruhito. "I don't think that the purpose of this trip is to focus on trade. It's really to be state guests of their majesties," the administration official told reporters, in reference to the emperor and Empress Masako. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, made the remarks a day after Japanese and U.S. trade officials were at odds over tariff cuts on industrial goods, including automobiles, and agricultural products during working-level talks in Washington.
While maintaining hefty levies on steel and aluminum imports from Japan, the Trump administration has also threatened Tokyo with a potential 25 percent automobile tariff in an apparent bid to pressure them into making concessions. "The president intends to promote bilateral, free and fair trade. It's something he's been doing consistently in his meetings with the Japanese," the official said.