updated 2/23/2006 12:59:57 PM ET 2006-02-23T17:59:57

Japan's Environment Ministry turned off its heating this week, leaving staff unable to even make a cup of tea, in an effort to spur the country to meet its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, an official said Thursday.

The weeklong shutdown, which began Tuesday, comes as Japan lags far behind its Kyoto Protocol pledge to cut output of gases believed to be warming Earth's atmosphere to 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. In 2004, the last year for which statistics are available, output was up 7.4 percent from 1990.

The ministry's "Warm Biz" campaign urges Japan's bureaucracy and businesses to bundle up with sweaters and scarves to cut down on energy use.

"It's actually not that cold. We're all keeping warm from the heat of our computers," ministry spokesman Masanori Shishido said, but admitted he has taken to wearing thermal underwear. Temperatures in Tokyo on Thursday were 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).

"We can't make hot tea any more, but I get a coffee at Starbucks during the lunch break," he said. "I think we're setting a good example for the rest of the country."

The move comes after the government last summer launched a highly publicized energy-saving campaign, dubbed "Cool Biz," encouraging bureaucrats and businessmen to sport open-collar, short-sleeve shirts to cut down on air conditioning use.

Yoichiro Kurokawa, who coordinates the Environment Ministry's energy-saving campaign, said such efforts can help Japan meet its emissions goal.

"Of course it won't be easy. But I believe the target is within reach if Japan keeps up the effort," Kurokawa said.

An increasing number of nuclear power stations and the use of market-based emissions trading are also expected to help Tokyo reach its goal, Kurokawa said.

Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 35 industrialized countries are committed to reducing or limiting output of six gases, chiefly carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning coal and oil products.

The European Union has vowed to reduce emissions by 8 percent. The United States has rejected the accord, saying the caps on emissions would damage the U.S. economy.

Resource-poor Japan _ the world's second-largest economy _ has practical reasons for sticking to the protocol.

The country is heavily dependent on imported oil to run its economy, though it has reduced that dependence from over 75 percent before the oil shock of 1973 to just under 50 percent in 2004, largely due to energy conservation and development of alternative energy resources.

The country's 52 nuclear reactors, for example, now supply 35 percent of its electricity. But safety is still a concern following a series of reactor malfunctions and accidents.

"Basically, Japan is doing all it can," Kurokawa said.

"What's important now is that we move forward properly and steadily," he said.

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