Japan sets 2050 target for carbon neutrality

Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide Suga has announced that the country will aim to achieve zero-carbon emissions by 2050, framing decarbonisation as an economic opportunity rather than as a burden.

 Suga announced the target in his first policy speech to Parliament since taking office in September.

Previously, Japan was aiming to cut its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Under this plan, 22-24 per cent of its energy would come from renewables, 20-22 per cent from nuclear, and 56 per cent from fossil fuels.

Although Japan is gradually working towards a more sustainable energy mix, including renewables and nuclear, it remains strongly reliant on imports of oil and gas and is the world’s fifth-largest carbon emitter. Progress has been stymied by the drawn-out closure of most of the country’s nuclear power plants following the 2011 Fukushima Dai-Ichi meltdown, following an earthquake and tsunami.

In his speech, Suga said that the shift away from fossil fuels could open the door to economic opportunities for Japan: “Global warming measures are no longer obstacles for economic growth, but would lead to industrial and socio-economic reforms and a major growth.”

“We need to change our mindset to the view that taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about great growth.”

Suga said that decarbonisation would be a key pillar of his economic strategy and promised to put “maximum effort into achieving a green society”.

He said that the government would boost R&D into key sustainable technologies, such as next-generation solar cells and carbon recycling, in addition to digitising society more broadly. He said that Japan’s reliance on coal would be reduced by maximising power generation by renewables while promoting nuclear energy.

Hiroshi Kajiyama, the industry minister, told reporters that plans for the 2050 target would be sketched out by the end of the year: “Carbon neutrality itself is a growth strategy and we must carry it out with all we have.”

The new target is likely to prompt widespread calls for more nuclear power plants to reopen and to block the planned opening of new coal-burning stations.

Eric Pederson, Nordea Asset Management’s head of responsible investment, told Reuters that while this new target is welcome, Japan will need to start decommissioning coal power plants and halt planning new coal projects abroad in order to meet the target.

The UK and EU have set similar targets to reach net-zero carbon emissions, with the UK Parliament voting to approve the 2050 target in June last year. Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced that his country will aim to be carbon neutral by 2060.

Xi’s announcement will put pressure on Chinese lawmakers to include radical decarbonisation policies at the core of the country’s next five-year plan for 2021-25.