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[ISHES Newsletter #28]Japan at Last Announces Goal of Net Zero GHG Emissions by 2050

2020/11/25 16:13:50

ISHES Newsletter #28
November 25, 2020

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Copyright (c) 2020

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan


Dear Readers,

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to disrupt everything around us, everywhere. This has been a difficult year and people around the world are facing many challenges as the pandemic continues. But we sincerely hope that the ISHES perspectives on happiness, economy and society will help our readers stay positive and find inspiration and creative ideas to get us all through this together.

In this November 2020 issue, you will find the following articles:

-Japan at Last Announces Goal of Net Zero GHG Emissions by 2050
At last, it appears that Japan has started to make a serious shift towards decarbonization. In his first policy speech to parliament last month, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared Japan's goal of net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. This is the first time the government has made an official commitment to "net zero." Our article this month takes a look at the content of the policy speech and related developments in Japan.

- Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter
Related to that topic, this time we have a look back at a JFS article about discussions of the Round Table for Studying Energy Situations that led to Japan's 5th Energy Basic Plan in 2018, and the final recommendations from its meetings.


Japan at Last Announces Goal of Net Zero GHG Emissions by 2050


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By Junko Edahiro, President of the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan

Prime Minister Suga's Net Zero Emissions Declaration

It appears that Japan has finally embarked on a serious shift towards decarbonization. In his policy speech during the extraordinary Diet session on October 26, 2020, newly-installed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared Japan's goal of "net zero emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2050."

Japan's goals prior to that had been a 26% reduction of GHG emissions by 2030 and an 80% reduction by 2050, to achieve a decarbonized society as early as possible in the latter half of this century. This is the first time the government has clearly declared a goal of "net zero emissions." Let's take a look at the relevant parts of Prime Minister Suga's speech.

I recently took office as the 99th Prime Minister of Japan. Here in the midst of a national crisis of the spread of novel coronavirus infections and the greatest economic slump in the postwar era, I have come to take on the very weighty responsibility of assuming the leadership of our nation.

...My administration will devote itself to the greatest possible extent to bring about a green society, while focusing on a virtuous cycle of the economy and the environment as a pillar of our growth strategy.

We hereby declare that by 2050 Japan will aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, that is, to realize a carbon-neutral, decarbonized society.

Addressing climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth. We need to adjust our mindset to a paradigm shift that proactive climate change measures bring transformation of industrial structures as well as our economy and society, leading to dynamic economic growth.

The key here is revolutionary innovations, such as next-generation solar cells and carbon recycling. We will accelerate research and development aimed at realizing utilization of such technologies in society. We will make our utmost efforts in this area, such as establishing a forum for the national and local governments to conduct a review towards realizing a decarbonized society, while making green investment more common through the full mobilization of regulatory reforms and other policy measures. Also, we will advance green transformation more efficiently and effectively through digital transformation in fields related to the environment. We will lead the green industry globally and realize a virtuous cycle of the economy and the environment.

We will establish a stable supply of energy by thoroughly conserving energy and introducing renewable energies to the greatest possible extent, as well as by advancing our nuclear energy policy with the highest priority on safety. We will also drastically change our longstanding policies on coal-fired power generation.

End of quote

A number of organizations issued statements in response to the Prime Minister's policy speech. Here are a few examples:

- The Japan Climate Leaders' Partnership (JCLP, a business coalition of more than 150 companies engaged in efforts to address climate change) issued a statement supporting the net zero commitment, and recommended a review of Japan's energy mix to include 50% renewable energy by 2030.

- Kiko Network issued a press release, "Time to raise the 2020 target to at least 50% reductions: Welcoming the announcement of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."

- WWF Japan issued a statement welcoming Prime Minister Suga's declaration for zero GHG emissions by 2050 and added that in reality Japan will have to significantly raise its emission reduction target for 2030.

- The Renewable Energy Institute issued a statement, "Regarding the Japanese government's 2050 carbon neutral declaration," adding that Japan must reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030.

Japan missed the chance last year

The Renewable Energy Institute's statement points out that, "European nations such as the UK, Germany and France, and other developed countries including Canada, New Zealand and others had already set this target by last year. Japan as well should have set its goals as part of its own Long-term Strategy under the Paris Agreement, announced in June 2019."

I myself was on the committee for the Long-term Strategy under the Paris Agreement. All committee members participating in our round-table discussions agreed that ambitious long-term targets are needed, but no specific details of these targets were discussed, such as whether or not a "zero" emissions target could be declared or time periods indicated. My assertion that carbon neutrality should be included was not adopted, and I was very disappointed about that.

Ultimately, the long-term strategy round-table discussion concluded with a proposal that said, "We have established a future image of a 'carbon-free society' as a final destination, and aim ambitiously for its realization as early as possible in the second half of this century. We propose a long-term goal of 80% reduction of GHG emissions by 2050, and towards its achievement, bold efforts are needed." The group was unable to agree on declaring a target for "zero" emissions.

What are other countries doing?

As it turned out, even though the round-table group did not advance the "net zero" proposal in June 2019, Prime Minister Suga did state it clearly now. However, it is worth noting that more than 120 countries have already made the declaration of aiming for net zero carbon by 2050, so it seems Japan is finally following suit. It is unfortunate that Japan was not ready show some international leadership by doing this sooner.

Looking overseas, on October 28, two days after Prime Minister Suga announced his net zero by 2050 policy, South Korea's president also announced his country's aim to achieve carbon neutrality with net zero GHG emissions by 2050.

Similar declarations were already being made in the EU in 2019, with Sweden announcing a net zero target by 2045, Austria and Iceland by 2040, and Finland by 2035.

On September 22, China announced a target of net zero emissions by 2060. This was made explicit by President Xi Jinping in a pre-recorded video address to the UN General Assembly, in which he said "We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060."

The EU, China and US together account for about 47% of global GHG emissions, so it can be said that if they are proactive in dealing with the climate crisis, these efforts are likely to become mainstream globally.

Belatedly, Japan has at last declared a goal of net zero emissions by 2050. But detailed implementation plans across government agencies as seen in Biden's campaign promises in the US have yet to appear in Japan. There also seems to be a strong wait-and-see sentiment among industrial circles in Japan about the direction to be taken by the new Basic Energy Plan, scheduled to be released in the coming fiscal year.

Local Governments in Japan Declare a Climate Emergency

e's Inc. website

Many countries and local governments around the world have declared a climate emergency, and Japan is no exception. A growing number of local governments here are making the declaration, starting with Iki City in Nagasaki Prefecture on September 25, 2019, and to date 42 local governments, including prefectures, cities, and towns have done so. A map (in Japanese) on our website plots all the local governments here that have made the declaration (

Meanwhile, the Climate Emergency Network (CEN) was established in Japan on November 18, and an inaugural symposium was held on November 25. This is a network of experts and businesses seeking to support the decarbonization efforts of local governments and working to support the development and implementation of decarbonization action plans. The representative founders are Professor Emeritus Ryoichi Yamamoto (the University of Tokyo) and Yusuke Saraya (president of Saraya Co.), and I am also listed as one of the founders.

A growing number of local governments has also declared that they will be carbon neutral by 2050. As of November 2, 2020, a total of 168 local governments including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Yokohama had announced they will reduce their CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050. With about 79.79 million residents, municipalities that have made this announcement account for more than half of Japan's total population.

Accelerating Progress

As of November 2020, the number of Japanese companies participating in RE100 had increased significantly to 41. RE100 consists of companies that have made the commitment to go "100% renewable" for their energy procurement. First among Japanese firms was RICOH Company, which declared the goal of procuring 30% of its power for business operations from renewable energy by 2030 at the latest, and 100% by 2050.

There is a growing sense of urgency about climate change at the national and regional levels, and at the company level as well, and there are growing efforts to make a big shift in how things are done. Actually, this should have happened much earlier. We consumers must also become more aware and speak out to accelerate these efforts. In this regard, we at ISHES we will continue to report on future progress in Japan.


Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan


In this regular section of each issue of the ISHES Newsletter, we recommend past articles from Japan for Sustainability newsletters. The non-profit JFS was active from August 2002 until July 2018, sending out information to the world with the aim of moving society in Japan and the world toward sustainability and greater happiness.

Japan's 5th Energy Basic Plan was adopted by Cabinet Decision in 2018. Junko Edahiro, president of ISHES, was a member of the Round Table for Studying Energy Situations, which made recommendations for the development of that Plan. Here we provide a link to the article she wrote based on her direct experience of having participated in the discussions.

Shaping Japan's Energy toward 2050: Participating in the Round Table for Studying Energy Situations


Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

*The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) is an organization based in Japan that is working to build a happy and sustainable society. To this end, we need to think about happiness, the economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world on what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

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