National

Japan falling behind global leaders in renewable energy use, panel warns in report

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Japan is falling behind other leading countries in renewable energy use, while its promotion of coal-fired plants risks hindering the competitiveness of domestic firms in a global market more concerned than ever about carbon emissions.

A new diplomatic energy strategy is needed that deploys more renewable energy at home and abroad, moves toward the retirement of domestic coal-fired plants, and minimizes Japan’s dependence on nuclear power.

Those were the main conclusions and recommendations of a report released Monday by an expert panel to Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

The panel began meeting last month and reports to Kono, a strong advocate of renewable energy and longtime skeptic of the country’s nuclear power policies. It includes representatives from think tanks, nongovernmental organizations, business leaders and finance experts.

“Japan’s conventional energy diplomacy, which is aimed at securing fossil fuel resources exclusively, should not situate renewables as a core pillar of its diplomacy in order to seek and realize a sustainable future with other countries,” the recommendation said.

Worldwide, renewable energy, especially solar and wind power, continues to grow as costs fall, the panel noted. There was about 1.3 gigawatts of solar capacity globally in 2000 — roughly equal to one large nuclear power plant. But by last year, capacity was estimated to be almost 400 gigawatts worldwide.

The report added that global wind power capacity jumped from 17 gigawatts in 2000 to nearly 540 gigawatts last year. At the same time, the International Renewable Energy Agency calculates that since 2010, the cost per kilowatt hour for solar power has dropped over 70 percent while that for onshore wind power has declined over 20 percent.

“If Japan relies on renewables that are rooted in its abundant natural resources and reduces its dependency on imported fossil fuels and uranium, it will result in a contribution to Japan’s energy security and can create a new domestic economy,” the report said.

A November 2017 report by the Renewable Energy Institute, a Japan-based nonprofit, showed that renewable energy accounted for about 15 percent of the country’s energy mix in 2016, based on government data. Meanwhile the government’s 2030 energy goals, released in 2015, call for 22 to 24 percent of Japan’s electricity needs to come from renewable energy sources, 20 to 22 percent from nuclear, 27 percent from liquefied natural gas, and 26 percent from coal.

But to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, which commits nations to keep the global temperature rise this century to well below two degrees, further efforts by Japan to reduce its carbon footprint are needed. Under the agreement, Japan pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2030, compared with 2013 levels.

“Japan can hardly be seen as a country playing a leading role for achieving the two degrees target under the Paris agreement. The new role of Japan’s diplomacy should include supporting the activities of nonstate actors,” the government panel advised in the report.

“The new Japanese diplomacy should create a network among domestic pioneer companies, municipalities, and NGOs and it should also publicize the roles of these actors worldwide in partnership with civil society,” it said.