As the Paris climate accord came into effect on Nov. 4, Japan is under pressure to carry out a public pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent compared with 2013 levels by 2030.
Under domestic guidelines determined in a Cabinet decision in May this year, it will be necessary to cut office and household emissions by 40 percent to achieve the target. Officials envisage a shift to light-emitting diode (LED) lights, which use less power compared with other types of lighting, and an increase in hybrid vehicles, but there has been little progress on these fronts due to the costs involved.
Meanwhile, the energy sector is an area of serious concern. Japan's greenhouse gas reduction goal was based on the government's expectations that it would extend the life of the nation's aging nuclear reactors, and rebuild or build new reactors so that nuclear power would account for 20 to 22 percent of the nation's energy mix by fiscal 2030. However, the reactivation of nuclear power plants in Japan has not progressed, and there are no prospects of replacing reactors or building new ones. There has been a stream of plans to build new coal-fired power plants, which emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, and Japan has fallen behind in the world trend of pouring effort into the introduction of renewable energy.
In 2015, Cochin International Airport in India's southern state of Kerala opened a major solar plant and became the first airport in the world to run completely on solar power. The airport's managing director, V.J. Kurian, explained that it was decided to shift to renewable energy as it was cheaper.
According to the International Energy Agency, the average worldwide cost of solar power in 2015 was one-third of the average cost in 2010. The fact that cost of renewable energy has declined to a level that can rival that of fossil fuels pushed China and India to ratify the Paris Agreement at an early stage.
In Japan, however, construction costs including the cost of installing solar panels are higher than in other countries, and the cost of renewable energy generation is about double that in Germany or China. Under the nation's basic energy plan, it is envisaged that renewable energy (including hydropower) will account for 22 to 24 percent of Japan's energy mix by fiscal 2030. As of fiscal 2014, however, the rate stood at just 12.2 percent. Under the Paris Agreement it is necessary to revise targets upward every five years, and renewable energy holds the key in doing so.
Teruyuki Ono, executive director of the Tokyo-based Renewable Energy Institute, calls for Japan to make an effort.
"We should set higher targets and implement them by setting higher goals for the introduction of natural energy and thoroughly implementing energy conservation measures," he said.