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A Reason To Follow Japan's Elections

Japanese elections don't tend to attract much interest here in the United States, even compared with, say, French or British elections. Maybe that's because the races haven't been terribly competitive: The Liberal Democratic Party has ruled almost continuously for the past 50 years. But it looks like that's about to change, as Prime Minister Taro Aso just called for an election on August 30, and the increasingly unpopular LDP will quite likely get the boot.

So why's this being mentioned on an environmental blog? Because there's a hidden climate angle here. The likely winner of the election, the Democratic Party of Japan, isn't exactly a "liberal" party in the American sense of the word. But it is quite a bit greener than the LDP—or at least it has been in opposition. Earlier this year, when Aso's government announced a goal of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, the DPJ criticized the targets as much too weak, calling instead for a 30 percent cut from 2005 levels.

Given that Japan still ranks as the world's fifth-largest emitter of CO2, and given that one of the big sticking points in global climate talks is that the wealthier countries have declined to set ambitious short-term targets for cutting carbon, the election could be a very big deal. (Granted, we'll see what the DPJ does if/when it actually assumes power, though also note that party leaders have been talking up an "environmental New Deal" for Japan—no doubt watching recent efforts by South Korea and China to position themselves as global leaders in clean-energy tech.)

P.S. In totally unrelated news, Japan's recession has meant tough times for the nation's vast army of robots. (No, really.)

--Bradford Plumer