Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has announced that Japan will aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
The goal is essential in avoiding a climate crisis as net zero emissions means a carbon-neutral situation where carbon dioxide emissions are offset by forest absorption and other factors.
All parties to the Paris Agreement are required to achieve the goal by 2050. At least 120 countries have already agreed with the goal and China, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, also announced in September that it will aim to accomplish the net zero target by 2060.
However, Japan had heretofore aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by fiscal 2030 and 80% by 2050 compared to fiscal 2013 levels, lagging behind other signatories. The latest announcement finally brings Japan at the starting point.
Going forward, Japan will need to carry out reforms in a wide range of spheres from the manufacturing and transport sectors to general households to attain the net zero goal. In particular, it is an urgent task to spread the output and consumption of renewable energy.
Japan relies on coal-fired power plants for almost 80% of its entire power generation. Renewable energy produced at solar, hydropower, wind and other plants accounts for less than 20%.
Under Japan's basic energy plan, the country aims to raise the ratio of renewables to 22 to 24% by fiscal 2030. But this target is far from sufficient. As the government is currently working on a revision to the plan, it should drastically review the energy mix.
It is imperative to reconsider the nuclear power ratio said to account for 20-22% of Japan's power mix. The government is aspiring to secure constant nuclear power output by replacing aging nuclear power stations and through other measures while moving ahead with reactivation of idled nuclear plants.
However, nuclear power complexes carry the risk of severe accidents. As it costs enormous money to secure safety at those facilities, the idea of labeling nuclear power as cheap energy is not globally accepted. The government has a responsibility to provide a road map for breaking Japan's dependence on nuclear power.
In European countries, efforts to revive their economies severely hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic through environmental investment are underway. This initiative, called "green recovery," can come into line with the principle of a "virtuous cycle of environment and economic growth" emphasized by Prime Minister Suga.
It is hoped that Japan will achieve a decarbonized society through improvement of renewable energy technologies and active investments in research and development of hydrogen energy and retrieval and storage of carbon dioxide.
It is also necessary to build a mechanism to guarantee the realization of the promise of net zero greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to discussions on a carbon tax, levied in accordance with the volumes of greenhouse gas emissions, the government is urged to consider specifying this goal in Japan's Act on Promotion of Global Warming Countermeasures.
Hurdles for attaining the goal remain high and we have a limited time frame. It is urgently needed to craft a strategy to prevent the net zero target from ending up as a mere empty promise.