Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi warned on Monday that the Paris climate accord could face death if steps to fight global warming were put on the backburner to facilitate the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Many economists and policymakers are forecasting a steep global recession this year as countries are forced into lockdowns to contain the spread of the coronavirus, curtailing business activity in a major blow to jobs and incomes.
"It would virtually mean the death of the Paris accord if we gave priority unconditionally to economic recovery, while neglecting the environment," Koizumi told Reuters in an interview.
Under the landmark 2015 Paris accord, nearly 200 nations agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to prevent catastrophic planetary warming.
"No one at the environment ministry disagrees that the economy is important. We just would like to behave in a way that ensures the environment will never be left behind," said Koizumi.
Japan last month submitted to the United Nations its closely watched target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a five-year review.
The goal of a 26 percent reduction by the fiscal year ending March 2031 from levels seen in fiscal 2013 was unchanged from five years ago, disappointing climate change campaigners, although the country said it will pursue effort for further cuts.
Koizumi, who turns 39 on Tuesday, said in the interview that he aims to submit a more aggressive target by the next climate summit due to take place in Glasgow next year.
The conference, known as COP26, was originally scheduled for November, but has been postponed to 2021 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
"Japan takes (the postponement) as a positive development and will strive to create a situation where we can take part in COP26 with our heads held high," Koizumi said.
Koizumi, speaking via teleconference from his Tokyo home in his first such interview as environment minister, is the son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, and is seen as a potential future leader himself
He said his ministry intends to take the lead in the country's shift toward teleworking, which has accelerated as a result of the coronavirus.
"The environment ministry will cut its commuters by 70 percent. I would like to show to the people that we are leading the way," he said.