The delicately balanced global climate talks in Cancún suffered a serious setback last night when Japan categorically stated its opposition to extending the Kyoto protocol – the binding international treaty that commits most of the world's richest countries to making emission cuts.
The Kyoto protocol was adopted in Japan in 1997 by major emitting countries, who committed themselves to cut emissions by an average 5% on 1990 figures by 2012.
However the US congress refused to ratify it and remains outside the protocol.
The brief statement, made by Jun Arima, an official in the government's economics trade and industry department, in an open session, was the strongest yet made against the protocol by one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases.
He said: "Japan will not inscribe its target under the Kyoto protocol on any conditions or under any circumstances."
The move came out of the blue for other delegations at the conference.
"For Japan to come out with a statement like that at the beginning of the talks is significant," said one British official. "The forthrightness of the statement took people by surprise."
If it proves to be a new, formal position rather than a negotiating tactic, it could provoke a walk-out by some developing countries and threaten a breakdown in the talks. Last night diplomats were urgently trying to clarify the position.
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