G-8 summit goes green in Japan
A brand new Toyota "plug-in" Prius is parked near a sleek-looking, hydrogen-powered RX-8 Mazda and eight more environmentally friendly cars.
Behind them, a futuristic "Zero Emissions House" is showcased to the thousands of international journalists who have come to Toyako, in northern Japan, to follow the Group of Eight (G8) summit.
Inside their media centre, journalists find 400-page directories of eco-friendly products currently on sale in Asia, from a recyclable and reusable microwave food container to an energy thrifty LED spot light.
And an exhibition on the impact of global warming on the melting Arctic ice cap and the Himalayan glaciers reminds them of why everybody needs to do their bit to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Fighting climate change is one of the top priorities of this week's G-8 meeting, which brings together the world's seven richest countries (United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada) plus Russia.
At their last meeting in Heilingendamm, Germany, G-8 leaders promised to take into serious consideration Japan's "Cool Earth 50" proposal to at least halve greenhouse gas emissions from the current levels by 2050.
But aside from reiterating that commitment, G-8 leaders meeting in Hokkaido are not expected to reach any groundbreaking deals on a post-Kyoto protocol, which called for a 5-per cent reduction of global emissions on their 1990 levels and which is due to expire in 2012.
"As for medium-term targets, this is the core challenge for United Nations negotiations until the end of 2009. The G-8 is not a forum to agree on that target," this year's host, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters ahead of the July 7-9 summit.
A series of obstacles stand in the way of such a deal. The first is political. The United States, the world's biggest polluter, did not ratify Kyoto out of concerns for its industries and now says it will not sign up to a new protocol unless this imposes strict limits also on rapidly developing countries such as China and
The second is more practical. Even the staunchest supporters of Kyoto are failing to meet its ambitious targets. According to latest figures available, for instances, the industrial plants and power stations of Germany and Britain, two of the world's best-behaving countries on the environmental front, not only failed to cut emissions in 2007, they both increased them by about 2 percent.
And even Japan, which is challenging the European Union (EU)'s role as the world's leader on climate change, has seen its carbon dioxide emissions rise rather than fall in recent years.
Moreover, the current slowdown in the global economy risks making costly emission-reducing schemes even less popular.
As the display in Toyako proved once again, it is not only a matter of lacking political will.
Another problem is that the technology behind some the boldest environmentally friendly projects is still either untested or too expensive.
The Zero Emissions House, for instance, gets all the energy it needs from a combination of solar panels on its roof and windows and from nearby small wind turbine generators - but it currently costs three times more than a normal house.
"We hope to make these kinds of houses viable within the next 10 to 20 years," said an official from Sekisui, one of the companies behind the initiative.
The Mazda RX-8, meanwhile, is currently only available for leasing to a handful of Japanese corporations, though a further 30 are being built for the Norwegian market.
Of more immediate benefit could be the new Toyota Prius, which has added a battery that can be recharged from home to its existing hybrid electric-petrol engine.
Toyota says the new Prius, due to hit the Japanese, European and the US markets in 2010, will produce half as much CO2 as its previous incarnation.
But the company acknowledges that existing batteries are too heavy and expensive to allow the new model to run on electric energy alone for much more than 15 km.
Environmentally conscious journalists present in Tokyo were at least able to draw some relief from the fact that the building that hosted them is fitted with recyclable materials and an air-conditioning system that uses snow.