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Editorial: Japan's legal commitment to carbon-neutral 2050 must be catalyst for change

Japan has codified in law its pledge to go carbon-neutral in real terms by 2050. This will prevent the country retreating from its commitment in the future, no matter what changes in government or economic circumstances may come.

    The legal commitment came in the form of revisions to the Act on Promotion of Global Warming Countermeasures, after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga promised Japan would cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

    Of special note is the inclusion in the legislation of policy measures to advance local governments' initiatives to expand the use of renewable energy. Specifically, the revised law requires prefectural governments and governments of ordinance-designated major cities to draw up renewable energy targets with concrete implementation plans. Municipalities will establish "promotion zones" with simplified environmental assessment processes for new renewable energy projects. The law also calls on local authorities to reflect their residents' opinions when choosing where to put these zones and what projects to pursue.

    In recent years, renewable energy projects have often been dogged by complaints of noise pollution and marred landscapes. In response, more local governments have introduced rules regulating these projects. To expand renewables, it is essential to explain to local people each project's merits and the environmental considerations involved.

    When 2019's Typhoon Faxai caused widespread blackouts in Chiba Prefecture, next to Tokyo, facilities run on solar power stepped up as evacuation shelters. A different positive example of renewable energy's benefits is the city of Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture, where profits from its mega-solar facility built on abandoned farmland are directed back into the community.

    There must be a system in which renewable energy will become a local resource, with each locality contributing its knowledge. To encourage municipalities and companies to take up renewables, the national government needs to set high targets.

    The Japanese government is scheduled to revise the Basic Energy Plan this year. Under the present plan, Japan aims to have renewable energy sources make up 22-24% of the country's electricity supply by fiscal 2030. We call for that target to be raised, and decisively so.

    However, Japan cannot reach net carbon zero just through renewable energy. We need a policy framework embracing many solutions, such as cutting down on coal-fired power plants and introducing a carbon pricing system including carbon taxes. The private sector, too, needs to shift to low-emissions manufacturing.

    The recent legal changes must be a catalyst for the public and private sectors to break from their previous thinking and pour their energies into creating a decarbonized society.

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