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Japan’s new target of a 46% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 2013 levels — a 77% improvement on the previous goal — may be a giant step forward, but it’s still not enough for Tokyo to achieve its goal of net zero by 2050, experts say.

Addressing 40 world leaders at the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Thursday that Japan will take a leadership role on climate change by striving toward one of the world’s most “ambitious” targets.

“Japan will continue its unceasing efforts toward 2030 and 2050,” he said. “Global decarbonization is something that cannot be achieved by the efforts of one country alone. It is a challenge that requires the whole international community being united as one.

“We can create global waves for climate change measures with ambitious targets presented and implemented by countries attending the summit today, who are responsible for around 80% of global emissions, thereby overwhelming the whole world with these waves.”

At the outset of the summit, Biden committed the U.S., the world’s second-biggest polluter, to cutting emissions by 50% to 52% by 2030 from 2005 levels. He also called on other countries to take the initiative in the runup to the U.N. COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, in November to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which calls on nations to make all efforts to keep the average global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably to 1.5 C.

“This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis,” Biden said. “The countries that take decisive action now to create the industries of the future will be the ones that reap the economic benefits of the clean energy boom that’s coming.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also introduced his country’s new target of reducing emissions by 78% by 2035 from 1990 levels, while the European Union reported its newly adopted 2030 target of at least 55% from 1990 levels. But China, India and Russia, which are among the world’s top four emitters, did not commit to tougher numerical targets.

“While the new U.S. climate plan is not enough, 50-52% greenhouse gas cuts on 2030 levels is a huge leap forward,” said Ed King, international lead at the Global Strategic Communications Council. “What’s now clear is that 50% by 2030 is roughly the landing ground for most major developed economies such as the U.S., Canada, Japan, EU and Britain and broadly in line with 1.5C.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate on Thursday. | WHITE HOUSE / VIA BLOOMBERG
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate on Thursday. | WHITE HOUSE / VIA BLOOMBERG

Henning Gloystein, director of the Eurasia Group in Singapore, said Japan stands to gain considerably from its strong ties to many of the nations in the “climate club” coalescing around the U.S. and the European Union.

“The relationship with the U.S. will also allow Japan to continue to be a tough negotiator with the U.S. on climate, with longer-term bets on building a hydrogen economy,” he said.

Suga emphasized that the 46% goal was set based on the accumulation of various reduction goals, with the government planning to prioritize the expansion of renewable energy and energy saving.

Industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said Friday that Japan will raise its share of renewable, hydro and nuclear power, which do not rely on fossil fuels for generating electricity, to more than 50% of total production by 2030. The combined ratio stood at only 24.3% in 2019.

He acknowledged that the government is expected to face stiff hurdles ahead, as the new target represents a sharp upgrade from the 26% cut that the world’s fifth-biggest emitter pledged in July 2015. Japan has only half the available flat land of Germany but has already installed more solar energy, he added. The current basic energy policy from 2018 aims to derive 20% to 22% of power from nuclear and 22% to 24% from renewables by 2030.

“It’s never easy to accomplish a goal,” Kajiyama told reporters.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said Friday that the government would work to spur the rapid expansion of renewables, including through the installation of solar panels on the rooftops of buildings and houses as well as offshore wind power, among other measures. The government is debating whether to make panel installations on the roofs of new houses mandatory, which Kajiyama said could cost an extra ¥1.3 million per household.

Yoh Yasuda, research professor at the Graduate School of Economics at Kyoto University, said the 46% target can be viewed as the result of a compromise among the “inner circle” of domestic industries because no scientific evidence by computer simulations can be seen in relevant government meetings and committees.

“Opaque policymaking like this is exactly the problem in Japan,” he said. “Although some media already have reported that the target was ‘significantly increased,’ the new target is still low and is below those of other countries, especially nations in Europe.

“It would be difficult for Japanese industries to devise technical and commercial initiatives in the world, and revising the target upward will be needed as soon as possible.”

The new target fell short of the 50% goal that had been called for by the Japan Climate Initiative, which has support from 208 companies, 22 local governments and 60 nongovernmental and other organizations, that would have put it more in line with the targets of Europe and the U.S.

“We welcome the strengthening of action, which represents a move to take responsible action with other major developed countries to avoid the climate crisis,” Mie Asaoka, president of Kiko Network, a climate change NGO, said in a statement. “However, this target is still not sufficient to achieve the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

With Climate Action Tracker analysis showing that Japan needs to reduce emissions by 62% by 2030 from 2013 levels to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, Asaoka said the NGO was calling on the government to raise the target to at least 60%.

Staff writer Eric Johnston contributed to this report.

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