Its not just Australia that is being criticized for its stance in Bali. In an opening gambit, Japan has proposed that the climate conference pursue a broad “least common denominator” approach to negotiating new controls on global-warming gases. Environmentalists couldn’t think less of it.

The proposal says nothing about making future targets for emission reductions legally binding — the principle underlying the current Kyoto Protocol.

“Is Japan scrapping the Kyoto Protocol on its 10th birthday?” asked Japanese environmentalist Kyoko Kawasaka. A Canadian colleague spoke of a “plot” by Japan and the United States to block a new Kyoto-style global agreement.

In a draft decision to be submitted for consideration Wednesday, Japan proposed that talks begin on a post-Kyoto agreement that would address a “global long-term goal for emission reduction” and “policies and measures” for reining in emissions.

It mentions a possible “sectorial approach on bottom-up basis” — meaning nationally, not internationally, determined targets for power plant or automobile emissions, for example. But the draft doesn’t speak of internationally binding targets.

“It’s clear to a number of us that the U.S. would like nothing more than for nothing to happen on the Kyoto track,” said Canadian Steven Guilbeault, a leading environmentalist spokesman here. “They will let their Japanese colleagues do that.”

All starting smoothly then.