CO2 cuts will require nation’s transformation


First in a series

Imagine yourself in a Japanese city in 2020.

As you walk down the street, chances are that every other car you see is a hybrid or powered by electricity. Solar panels on rooftops are common, and homes are equipped with cogeneration water heaters. They also have high-tech insulation, warm in winter and cool in summer without having to rely very much on air conditioning.

This is what life will be like a decade from now if the country wants to achieve a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990 levels, according to a report issued in April by the National Institute for Environmental Studies.

Pretty much everything you encounter on a daily basis will have to be drastically changed to be environmentally friendly.

For example, only 0.3 percent of all cars on the road in 2005 were hybrids or electric, but this needs to be raised to 40 percent by 2020. Electricity generated by solar panels must also be drastically increased to 79 million kw from 1.42 million kw in 2005. The number of cogeneration water heaters should reach 440 million units from only 700,000 four years ago, and newly built homes must feature insulation in 2020 compared with only 30 percent in 2005.

The NIES figures were based on the premise that the 25 percent cut is achieved entirely by domestic efforts. The reduction, however, more likely will have to be met by combining national efforts with international mechanisms such as emissions trading.

Still, Japan has a long way to go to reach an environmentally friendly future in just 10 years.

The bold greenhouse gas reduction target announced by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in September means the country has stepped on the gas in the drive to become a low-carbon society, which will require a major transition in the structure of society, experts say.

“To stop global warming, we need to stop relying on carbon as an energy resource. A transition in our energy framework is necessary,” Yoichi Kaya, director general of the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth, said at a recent symposium in Tokyo.

To keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees, the Group of Eight most industrialized nations pledged at their summit in July to reduce 80 percent of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This goal was reaffirmed by Hatoyama and U.S. President Barack Obama in a joint message Nov. 13 on global climate change negotiations.

Although there is still 40 years to go, cutting emissions 80 percent is an extremely challenging goal, Kaya said.

Analysts say the midterm goal set for 2020 is an indicator of what Japan is willing to achieve.

Before the Democratic Party of Japan’s landslide win in the Aug. 30 general election, the nation’s 2020 reduction target was 15 percent compared with the 2005 level. When converted to the 1990 level, the target was 8 percent.

When he set this goal last June, then Prime Minister Taro Aso of the Liberal Democratic Party stressed that the reduction would be achieved through domestic efforts only. But nongovernment and international organizations working on climate change criticized the target as less than ambitious for the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

In contrast, Hatoyama said his administration will mobilize all available policy tools to achieve his more aggressive pledge, including introducing of a domestic emissions trading system and global warming tax.

But Hatoyama and his Cabinet have yet to map out precisely how they plan to bring about the 25 percent cut.

As part of the process, a government task force of experts and five research institutions have analyzed possible scenarios to reach the 2020 target and submitted a midterm report Tuesday.

The group’s calculations involved a wide range of factors, from the impact on the economy, industries and households to different possible measures taken to achieve the goal.

According to the report, households will have to bear a financial burden ranging from about ¥130,000 to ¥765,000 a year if Japan slashes its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent purely through domestic efforts.

The figures touched a political nerve.

After receiving the report, Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa said the task force will be dissolved and the calculations will be done over because the institutions involved were the same ones that performed an analysis under the Aso government.

Policies on how industry should be involved in the reduction process have not been decided either.

The government has yet to clarify how much of the 25 percent cut should come from domestic efforts, and various industrial sectors that are major polluters have voiced concern over making further sacrifices.

The manufacturing sector covers around 40 percent of Japan’s emissions. The transportation industry makes up 19 percent, while the service and other sectors make up 18 percent.

The private sector claims sharp reductions will risk Japan’s international competitiveness and will impose a heavy burden on consumers, as they have already been making efforts to meet the international pledge under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce 6 percent of emissions compared with 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

Hitoshi Ikuma, director of the Center for the Strategy of Emergence of the Japan Research Institute, said conventional industries need to realize there will be much opportunity for growth if they change their business structures and mind-sets.

“There is no other market besides the market related to the environment that has potential for growth,” he said, adding that Hatoyama’s decision to make Japan a low-carbon society should be greeted with enthusiasm.

Solar and wind power generation is one such example. But over the last few years Japanese companies, despite having competitive technologies, have lost market share or have failed to compete with foreign rivals.

Ikuma blames the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the LDP for upholding policies that catered to conventional industries and failed to support the new markets.

“There needs to be a shift in the industrial structure that will be able to meet the 2050 (target),” he said, noting there are various fields that companies have the potential to flex their competitiveness.

For example, Ikuma noted, developing energy-saving technologies, further promoting recycling of materials, increasing the use of public transportation for moving goods and promoting a paperless work environment are some of the areas key to making the structural transition.

Regardless of what policies are drawn up, the public will have to be ready to meet the challenges. In fact, several opinion polls show that most Japanese are concerned about global warming and want to do something about it.

A NIES survey between April and July found a large majority saying they consider global warming an important problem that needs to be addressed and that swift action must be taken.

Although the survey was conducted around the time Aso announced his emissions reduction target, Midori Aoyagi of the NIES Social and Environmental Systems Division, who compiled the survey, predicted that people will likely support Hatoyama in this case.

“The poll showed people believe Japan should play a leading role with developed countries while also involving developing countries in the quest for an overall reduction. This matches the direction of the 25 percent target,” she said.

In the end, policies will determine the path Japan heads down, observers agree.

“Policies that focus on (heeding the opinions of) industries will come to an end in the post-Kyoto Protocol society,” Ikuma said. “Politicians and government officials must return to the basics and come up with a grand vision. That’s what we need.”