• Kyodo

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U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke by phone Tuesday with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and welcomed the leader's pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Japan to net zero by 2050.

During the conversation that lasted about 10 minutes, Suga told Guterres that Japan will join the Climate Ambition Alliance, a group of countries, cities, companies and other entities — backed by the U.N. chief — working toward the same carbon neutral goal, according to the Foreign Ministry.

A day after making the pledge in his first policy speech in the Diet, Suga said Japan will speed up the process of creating a "virtuous cycle of environment and economic growth" through innovations and continue to play an active role in realizing the carbon free society sought by the Paris accord, the ministry said.

It quoted Guterres, in response, as saying that he was encouraged by Japan's leadership and that he expressed his gratitude.

Suga, who took office in mid-September, added that Japan will continue to cooperate with the United Nations in promoting universal health coverage and support measures against the coronavirus pandemic, it said.

Before the phone conversation, the U.N. chief's spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement that Japan's commitment to attaining the emissions goal is a "very significant positive development."

Guterres has "no doubt that Japan has all the necessary technological, financial and engineering tools to get to net zero emissions by 2050," and is "confident that Japan will also assist developing countries to reach that same objective," the statement said.

Japan's new goal on greenhouse gas emissions is a step forward from the government's previous target of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050.

However, Suga's policy speech lacked concrete measures to achieve the emissions target, apart from saying that Japan will do all it can to introduce renewable energy sources.

His pledge came as more countries seek to go carbon-free, with China announcing its plan to become carbon-neutral by 2060 at the U.N. General Assembly last month.

"We must review regulations and make arrangements to make it easier to carry out renewable energy projects with high potential, including offshore wind power generation," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a regular news conference Tuesday.

"It is important to make renewable energy the main source of power through deregulation," the top government spokesman added.

Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said his ministry plans to revise a law on the promotion of measures against global warming to facilitate the introduction of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, in Japan.

"We will set up a panel of experts to make recommendations swiftly," Koizumi said.

The ministry seeks to provide financial assistance to municipal governments and firms working on introducing renewable energy and simplify government approval and licensing procedures. It is planning to set up the panel as early as next month.

In Beijing, China also hailed Suga's carbon-neutral pledge on Monday, voicing hope that the two Asian powers will join hands to tackle global climate change.

China "highly appreciates and welcomes" Suga's announcement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

"Climate change is a major challenge facing all mankind. We must adhere to multilateralism, gather the strength of all countries and work together to deal with it," he said, adding, "Japan's move will help strengthen the international community's joint efforts."

Zhao also expressed eagerness to cooperate with Japan to promote a "green recovery" plan, initiated by the European Union to shore up the economy hit hard by the novel coronavirus pandemic by boosting investment in the environmental sector.

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