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Japan’s 2050 Carbon Neutral Declaration will require complete coal phase-out – REI

In his policy speech to the Diet on October 26, 2020, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Japan to net-zero by 2050, that is, carbon-neutral by 2050, and aim to achieve a decarbonized society.”
"In order for today's 2050 Carbon Neutral Declaration to really strengthen Japan's climate actions, it is necessary to significantly strengthen the GHG reduction target for 2030", said Teruyuki Ohno, Executive Director, Renewable Energy Institute (REI).

While Japan has finally pledged a 2050 Carbon Neutral Declaration, it will have to significantly raise its 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets, phase-out all coal-fired power, and increase the share of renewables in all sectors says the Renewable Energy Institute (REI) commenting on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s address on October 26, 2020.

In his first policy address to the Diet since taking office, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to “reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Japan to net-zero by 2050, that is, carbon-neutral by 2050, and aim to achieve a decarbonized society.” He also mentioned that Japan will “fundamentally shift the long-standing policy on coal-fired power generation.” On the other hand, he mentioned promoting nuclear power and innovative technology is necessary such as carbon recycling.

Commenting on PM Suga’s announcement, the Renewable Energy Institue (REI) noted that other major economies such as the United Kingdom (UK), Germany, France, and other countries in Europe, and developed countries like Canada and New Zealand, have set such a target as of last year and that Japan should have made this pledge already last year in its “Long-term Strategy under the Paris Agreement”.

Though undeniably late, the fact that the Japanese government has finally set a long-term target for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement represents progress. In the meantime, many companies participating in the Japan Climate Initiative, and municipalities accounting for over half of Japan’s population, had set the target of net zero emissions by 2050 ahead of the central government.

Raise GHG emission reduction targets and phase out all coal

According to REI, it was pressure from these non-state actors in Japan that led to the decision by the government. However, for Japan’s policy to be assessed as helping avert the deepening climate crisis, REI says that it must commit to the following two actions – raise the 2030 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target and phase out all coal-fired power generation while increasing renewable energy production and usage across all sectors.

The current low target of a 26 percent emission reduction by 2030 compared to 2013 levels needs to be raised to a 45 percent emission reduction from 2010 levels, as called for in the IPCC 1.5℃ Special Report. To accomplish this, the target for electricity from renewable energy needs to be raised to around 45 percent, and all coal-fired power plants need to be phased out by 2030.

REI’s “Proposal for 2030 Energy Mix in Japan” released in August 2020 makes it clear that appropriate policy actions would make it possible to reduce emissions and promote the energy transition at this level. The proposal calling for over 40 percent renewable power by FY2030 has already earned the support of many of the country’s companies and municipalities.

While Prime Minister Suga said that “we will fundamentally shift our long-standing policy on coal-fired power generation”, REI says that it should be nothing less than a complete coal phase-out, including coal-fired power that thus far has been promoted under the name of “high efficiency”. Otherwise, Japan risks losing international climate credibility, on the one hand, advocating for carbon neutrality in 2050 yet at the same time only marginally revising its emission reduction target for 2030.

In order for today’s 2050 Carbon Neutral Declaration to really strengthen Japan’s climate actions, it is necessary to significantly strengthen the GHG reduction target for 2030, and to completely phase out coal-fired power generation including those which have been called “high efficiency”. As research by the Renewable Energy Institute has revealed, the key to policy shifts is to supply 45 percent of electricity from renewable energy by 2030, said Teruyuki Ohno, Executive Director, REI.

Strategy for all energy, not just power

The second action highlighted by REI is the crafting of a strategy for using renewable energy to decarbonize not just electric power but all energy use, including heat and fuel, by 2050. Globally, the day is dawning when low-cost renewable electricity will be supplied on a large scale. And prospects are emerging for meeting the energy demand of the industrial and transport sectors with hydrogen and e-fuels from renewable energy.

Some have discussed using decarbonization as grounds for continuing nuclear power, but because of its rising costs and issues related to safety and final waste disposal, nuclear power cannot be depended on. Further, utilizing carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a measure to reduce thermal power emissions is a policy from the past that according to REI, has already “clearly failed” in Europe and elsewhere.

Many companies participating in the Japan Climate Initiative, and municipalities accounting for over half of Japan’s population, had set the target of net-zero emissions by 2050 ahead of the central government.

Instead, the key to achieving decarbonization in Japan is, REI says, the maximum use of ample renewable energy resources in Hokkaido, Tohoku, and other regions, and the construction of a core transmission network to make this possible. REI is formulating an energy strategy to achieve a decarbonized society in Japan centered on solar PV and onshore/offshore wind power.

A Japan with net-zero GHG emissions is not only decarbonized, it is a country with much higher energy self-sufficiency and much greater energy security that does not need to import fossil fuels at a cost of over JPY10 trillion annually.

Raising the 2030 emission reduction target and setting a high renewables target would make it possible, starting today, to accelerate the transition of business models toward decarbonization and actively call for domestic and overseas investment for the energy transition.

Companies competing to develop new decarbonization businesses and municipalities working to develop decarbonized communities, all with the goal of net-zero emissions, would make it possible to pass on a sustainable society to the next generation.

Whether we can truly laud the Japanese government’s 2050 carbon-neutral declaration depends on whether it raises its 2030 reduction target significantly and launch the energy transition necessary for this. To accelerate Japan’s transition to a decarbonized society, Renewable Energy Institute will continue making necessary policy proposals and strengthen partnerships with a broad range of non-state actors, REI’s statement said.

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