On Christmas Day, the trade ministry presented its gift to Mother Earth: a plan to shepherd the economy away from fossil fuels and foster growth in green energy, putting Japan on the road to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

So how does it look in the cold light of analysis? Well, the plan is big on ambition but small in scope, experts tell Ryusei Takahashi. For starters, there is no ban on hybrid vehicles, nor any plan to promote or subsidize green electricity production.

Also controversial is the role nuclear power is expected to play, writes Eric Johnston. Although renewables are supposed to comprise 50-60% of the nation’s electricity by 2050 — nearly a threefold increase over current use — nuclear and fossil fuels using carbon capture and storage are still predicted to account for 30-40%. Nuclear accounted for 6% of Japan’s energy mix in 2019.

Japan's plan to go carbon neutral | REUTERS
Japan’s plan to go carbon neutral | REUTERS

Net-zero climate targets sound wonderful, but it’s important to read the fine print, AFP-Jiji reports. What is really being promised, and will it deliver the Paris deal goals of capping warming at “well below” 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels?

For example, Australian and Japanese companies are studying plans to capture carbon dioxide from industrial emitters in Asia and store it under the ocean floor off Australia. Naturally, these “emissions-that-weren’t” will not count toward countries’ carbon tallies, but it does seem a bit like cheating.

Also raising eyebrows is a new type of bond that’s supposed to incentivize firms to meet their environmental goals. But take-up of ESG bonds has been underwhelming, Bloomberg reports, as investors in Japan and elsewhere question the ethics of profiting from a bond that pays out only if a company misses its green or social targets.