The trade ministry released Friday a roadmap to shepherd Japan’s economy away from fossil fuels, and foster growth in green energy industries to bring within reach Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s pledge to eliminate net carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
The report — which calls for strong government spending to subsidize and incentivize emissions reduction, and innovation in more than a dozen industries — details the potential economic growth that can be expected if the country reaches net zero carbon emissions.
Not only does the plan provide a tentative framework to support Suga’s vow in October to achieve decarbonization within three decades, it represents a major shift in the central government’s attitude in treating renewable energy not as a barrier to economic growth but as a catalyst.
“To divest from fossil fuels, shift to renewable energy and eliminate carbon emissions should not be seen as a restriction of economic activity, but as an opportunity to take advantage of inevitable change,” a trade ministry official told reporters Thursday. “The central government will stand behind the private sector in leading the shift to a carbon free society.”
The report designates 14 industries in which significant growth and investment are key to achieve decarbonization. These include offshore wind, ammonia fuel, hydrogen, nuclear energy, cars, shipping, airlines, semiconductors, logistics, agriculture, carbon recycling, housing, energy recycling and the lifestyles of individual people.
According to the trade ministry’s outline, the government aims to raise offshore wind energy output to 45 million kilowatt-hours by 2040, hydrogen power consumption to 20 million tons by 2050, promote nuclear energy abroad but halt domestic projects, decarbonize the agriculture industry and reduce coal-fired power consumption to the point where carbon recycling technology can be developed to nullify the remaining harmful emissions.
By targeting these industries, the trade ministry aims to mobilize more than ¥240 trillion in private sector savings through investment, regulation, subsidies and tax incentives. In doing so, it expects the cumulative economic impact to reach ¥90 trillion in 2030, and ¥190 trillion by 2050.
While the plan is tentative, officials said the government would begin to take steps where it could as soon as possible. They added that the plan was only a projection and that its implementation will depend on the country’s energy portfolio, which is decided by a Strategic Energy Plan set to be revised some time before June 2021, pending government discussions that began in October this year.
Still, questions remain concerning the country’s willingness to overhaul the world’s third largest economy and slash harmful greenhouse gas emissions to curtail climate change. Japan is also the world’s fifth largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
The government aims to reduce the more than 1 billion tons of greenhouse gases the country emitted in 2018, according to the trade ministry, to 930 million in 2030 and net zero by 2050.
At the same time, the ministry projects that domestic demand for electricity will grow by between 30% and 50% by 2050. Electricity accounted for 37% of the country’s carbon emissions in 2018, while 25% came from manufacturing, 17% from transportation and 10% from households and businesses.
The government also aims to ban the sale of new gasoline automobiles in the first half of the 2030s. Trade ministry officials said the country aims to announce some time during the summer of 2021 its plan to make all new commercial and passenger vehicles completely electric.
The plan, however, will not ban the sale of hybrid vehicles. The omission has drawn criticism from opponents who say the government is easing into the transition away from gas-powered cars in a bid to appease automobile manufacturers.
Earlier this month, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike announced a nearly identical plan for the city, different only in that the capital will aim to ban sales of new gasoline cars by 2030.
“Tokyo has and will continue to lead the country’s efforts to reduce harmful emissions,” Koike said during an exclusive interview Wednesday. “By setting ambitious goals, the capital can push the country forward.”
Suga’s announcement in October — that Japan would strive to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, as was demanded of all countries in the 2015 Paris Agreement — was met with skepticism and doubt from supporters and critics alike.
Climate advocates criticized his commitment to nuclear energy and carbon capture technology, while many private sector corporations in the energy industry were resistant to back a plan that would almost certainly upend their business models.
“With the economy and the environment situated as two pillars of the country’s growth, my administration will make the utmost effort to achieve a green society,” Suga said in October. “It needs to be understood that global warming countermeasures could transform the economy and foster growth, not hinder it.”
The Paris Agreement calls on nations to keep global warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a critical benchmark that scientists say would trigger the beginning of a collapse in many of Earth’s ecosystems and spell disaster for humankind.
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