Building a nation of green growth

The Noda Cabinet on May 29 endorsed the 2012 white book on the environment. It calls for promotion of electricity power generation through renewable energy sources in the Tohoku region. Given the effects of the March 11 disasters and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear crisis, this is a reasonable approach. It says that wind generated electricity produced in many parts of the Pacific coast of the region can produce a maximum 83 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity yearly, matching the annual supply from Tohoku Electric Power Co. Citing a study by an Okayama University research team, the white book says that solar and wind power will be able to meet a large part of electricity demand by businesses in Iwate Prefecture and that surplus funds could be used for local revitalization. The government should take concrete steps to translate the white book’s ideas into reality.

Another important point of the white book, related to the earlier point, is a call for making Japan a country of green growth that will lead the world. This call is based on a belief that it is possible to achieve economic growth while reducing industrial and household waste, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming.

The government so far has lacked the will to seriously pursue green growth. Not until July will it introduce a feed-in tariff system under which power companies, in principle, will buy all the electricity generated through green sources at fixed prices. An environment tax is planned to start as late as October.

If it had not been for the people expressing a strong desire to reduce the nation’s reliance on nuclear power following the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, the government may have been slower in introducing these needed steps. The government should learn a lesson from its past mistake.

The white book pointed out that while Japan produced about half of the world’s photovoltaic solar cells in 2004, its share dwindled to less than 10 percent of the world production in 2010. That’s because the government lacked the will to promote solar power and did not introduce a feed-in tariff system in time.

The government should draw a specific road map for turning Japan into a country of green growth. It should change the electricity market structure to ensure promotion of renewable energy, help develop green technologies and improve the legal and tax systems to facilitate green energy production. Local governments and communities should be given the authority to employ and promote green energy and the recycling of resources.