Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, has promised to make ambitious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, months before world leaders meet for crucial climate change talks.

Hatoyama, who will take office next week, said Japan would seek to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, but said the target would be contingent on a deal involving all major emitters in Copenhagen in December.

“We can’t stop climate change just by setting our own emissions target,” he said at a forum in Tokyo. “Our nation will call on major countries around the world to set aggressive goals.”

The announcement today by Japan’s prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, is not a big surprise (see “Japanese opposition easily wins elections — running on a much stronger climate target“).  But it is nice to see politicians keep their promises — or try to.  The business lobby opposes the target.

Today’s Guardian story notes:

The commitment places Japan firmly among countries committed to aggressive CO2 emissions cuts, despite mounting opposition from business and industry groups, which claim the measures will put jobs at risk.

“We have concerns about its feasibility in view of the impact on economic activities and employment, as well as the enormousness of the public burden,” said Satoshi Aoki, the chairman of the Japan automobile manufacturers’ association.

Harufumi Mochizuki, the outgoing vice minister of trade and industry, said Hatoyama had chosen a “very tough road ahead for the Japanese people and economy”.

Hatoyama said his plan would create jobs in sectors such as renewables and manufacturing amid an expected rise in demand for solar energy, home renovations and energy-efficient cars and consumer electronics.

“There are cautious people who worry that it will hurt the economy and livelihoods, but I think it will change things for the better,” he said.

To help achieve the reduction, Japan will create a domestic emissions trading market and introduce a “feed-in” tariff – financial rewards for industries that expand their use of renewable energy sources.

The Copenhagen talks will be dominated by attempts to persuade China, India and other big emerging economies to sign up to emissions targets.

I’m not certain I’d put it that way.  China, India and the other big emerging economies are not going to sign up to hard emissions targets, but if the rich countries make real commitments — and the U.S. Senate can pass something similar to the Waxman-Markey climate and clean energy bill — then I think China will take on binding commitments that take them sharply off the business as usual emissions path (see “ ‘China will sign’ global treaty if U.S. passes climate bill, E.U. leader says“).  And other key countries are also willing to embrace targets (see “South Korea, a ‘developing’ country, embraces 2020 emissions cap, with important implications for a global deal in Copenhagen“).

The target brings Japan, the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, alongside the EU, which is committed to a 20% cut by 2020 from 1990 levels and 30% if other nations agree to match the target. But it is still at the lower end of the 25-40% cuts recommended by the UN climate change panel.

Hatoyama will have to reconcile his bold initiative with election pledges to eliminate road tolls and petrol surcharges.

As host of the Kyoto summit in 1997, Japan is keen to reposition itself at the forefront of the battle against climate change. Its emissions rose 2.3% in the year to March 2008, putting it 16% above its 2012 Kyoto target.

The target is certainly an impressive one, and the DPJ deserves kudos.

If Japan can do a 25 percent cut, surely the United States can do a measly 4 percent.