The government faces growing pressure to set an ambitious fiscal 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, with business and environmental groups demanding a doubling of renewables’ contribution to the country’s energy mix up to between 40% and 50%.

To address the matter, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government is set to release a new carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions target for fiscal 2030, which he promised would be more ambitious than the current goal of a 26% reduction compared to fiscal 2013 levels.

The series of discussions on Japan’s future energy plans come as Tokyo faces the need to make up ground on other developed nations that have already committed to larger greenhouse gas emission cuts. Suga pledged last October to make the country carbon neutral by 2050.

Suga said he agreed with U.S. President Joe Biden at their meeting on Friday in Washington that the two countries will lead global decarbonization efforts, such as through the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, clean energy technologies, or transferring technologies to developing countries.

“Japan and the United States are both committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, and we know to do that will require setting and meeting our 2030 goals,” Biden told a joint news conference after the talks. Biden will host a virtual two-day climate change summit from next Thursday.

But the Japanese government is proving to be slow to change its stance on the cost-effectiveness and reliability of renewables despite the emergence of more efficient and technology-based solutions to traditional challenges.

Therefore, it remains to be seen how ambitious it will be in its attempts to deliver a higher ratio of renewables in the nation’s energy mix.

“The age in which companies feel an extra burden because of government carbon dioxide reduction policy is over. Now companies lose a competitive edge if they don’t seriously tackle (their contribution to) climate change,” said Takejiro Sueyoshi, head of the Japan Climate Initiative.

Sueyoshi leads a network of Japanese companies, municipalities, research institutions and civil society organizations which aspire to decarbonize the country’s economy.

“The government needs to understand the risks Japanese companies face if Japan continues to lag in playing its part to slow and reverse global warming. A company does not want to be seen as coming from a country that is not serious about environmental protection,” he said.

The group urged the government to strive to have renewables make up 40% to 50% of the energy mix by 2030. It also said the government should slash greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45% in 2030 from its 2013 levels.

But Japan generated more than 75% of its energy from coal-fired power plants and thermal power generation using liquefied natural gas in the fiscal year ending March 2020, making the task of transitioning away from fossil fuels a difficult one.

Around a dozen coal-fired plants are being constructed or are waiting to be built in Japan, according to the environmental group Japan Beyond Coal.

Smoke billows from chimneys at an industrial district near Tokyo. Japan generated more than 75% of its energy from coal-fired power plants and thermal power generation using liquefied natural gas in the fiscal year ending March 2020 | REUTERS
Smoke billows from chimneys at an industrial district near Tokyo. Japan generated more than 75% of its energy from coal-fired power plants and thermal power generation using liquefied natural gas in the fiscal year ending March 2020 | REUTERS

Japan has also yet to declare an end to existing and new state support for coal-fired power plant construction in developing countries, such as Vietnam and Indonesia, where coal can be attractive due to its low cost, stable supply and reliability.

Tokyo may look to increase reliance on nuclear power to reduce dependence on fossil fuels but public safety concerns remain strong following the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant triggered by the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The country’s stricter safety standards imposed after the Fukushima disaster have also slowed the restart of nuclear plants.

Under the current energy plan compiled in 2018, the government aims for renewables to account for 22% to 24%, fossil fuels, including coal and LNG, for 56%, and nuclear power for 20% to 22% of the country’s electricity generation in fiscal 2030.

In fiscal 2019, fossil fuels accounted for 75.8%, renewables 18% and nuclear power 6.2%.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in February that to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, emissions across the world must be cut in 2030 by 45% of 2010 levels.

He urged major emitters to “step up with much more ambitious emissions reduction” targets for 2030 before a U.N. climate change conference to be held in the U.K. in November.

The Japan Association of Corporate Executives said in a statement in March the government should raise the ratio of renewables in its fiscal 2030 energy mix to 40% if it wants to achieve its carbon neutrality goal in 2050.

“If we consider the level of public acceptance to nuclear power and the situation regarding the restart of nuclear plants, it is indispensable to raise the ratio of renewables to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to boost energy self-sufficiency,” the association said.

As for the breakdown, it said 30% should be generated by solar and wind power and 10% by other renewables such as hydro, geothermal and biomass power.

A total of 53 domestic and international companies joining RE100, a global initiative promoting the use of renewable energy, meanwhile, urged the government in March to raise the ratio of renewables to 50% in 2030, saying doing so “would send powerful market signals to help jumpstart a green economic recovery.”

“Offering greater corporate access to more abundant renewable energy will help businesses achieve their climate goals, which often align with Japan’s climate vision,” it said in a statement.

In addition to working with Biden on decarbonization, Suga wants to make sure Japan does not lag behind other advanced countries in addressing the issue ahead of a Group of Seven summit to be held in Cornwall in June and the November U.N. climate change conference in Glasgow, both in Britain.

Last year, the European Union set a more ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction target, aiming for a 55% cut in 2030 from 1990 levels, up from the previous 40% reduction.

Britain also said in December it will aim to reduce emissions by at least 68% from 1990, compared with the previous 53% cut.

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