On the eve of the ministerial round of discussions next week, Japan stunned the rest of the countries on Friday at the climate talks in Warsaw by announcing that it was ditching its earlier emission reduction targets of 25 per cent reduction below 1990 levels. Instead, it pledged to reduce emissions, by 2020, by 3.8 per cent from their 2005 level.

The new target represents a 3.1 per cent increase over the 1990 emission levels.

The 1990 levels are accepted as a basic benchmark against which developed countries have so far pledge to reduce their targets. The European Union has planned to and almost achieved a 20 per cent reduction against the benchmark year by 2020.

Transiting out of the nuclear-heavy energy mix after the Fukushima disaster, Japan, which has already ditched the Kyoto Protocol, is expected to be more heavily dependent on fossil fuels in future. The decision came in for all around criticism, giving the EU the chance to express disappointment even as it defended its own relatively easy target for 2020.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change requires developed countries to take the lead in emission reductions and the earlier agreements had demanded that the rich countries take emission reduction targets for the short term period — between now and 2020 — before the long-term agreement is signed in 2020. Data shows that instead it is the emerging economies, along with other poor countries, which have taken higher emission reduction pledges than the developed countries.

A negotiator from the Like-Minded Developing Countries group told The Hindu: “The rich countries talk of ambition [in cutting emissions] and meeting the emission gap and today we are seeing another example of how they refuse to practice what they preach.”

The irony in the fact that Kyoto had hosted the first concrete global decision to cut emissions was not lost. “Once upon a time, Japan and Kyoto were synonymous for climate action, but now Japan will be a byword for bad faith,” said Mohamed Adow, senior climate change advisor at Christian Aid.

The lesser targets the developed countries take between now and 2020 the more they are able to shift the burden of reducing emissions to the period after 2020, when it would get more onerously distributed across the developing countries.

In comparison with the Japanese decision, the developed countries are obliged to increase their emission reduction pledges after a review in 2014.