According to Japanese media, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will use his first official policy address on Monday to set a target for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050—joining a growing list of governments targeting net zero and bringing the world’s fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The previous administration had said Japan would target an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, with vague notions of reaching complete carbon neutrality sometime thereafter. Suga’s new target will put Tokyo on track to match the EU and the U.K., both of which have pledged net-zero by 2050.
The 2050 deadline also sets Japan on a slightly shorter carbon-neutral course than the one China is on. Last month, President Xi Jinping announced China would hit net zero by 2060: the target deadline for “developing” economies.
On Wednesday, Boston Consulting Group reported it will cost Beijing $15 trillion over the next 30 years to meet Xi’s goal, or about 2% of the country’s annual GDP. It would also require China to wean itself completely off of coal by 2050.
Japan’s transition to net zero comes with its own complications. The world’s third largest economy is also the world’s fourth largest electricity consumer per capita. Once a pioneer in nuclear power, the Fukushima disaster of 2011 spooked Japan away from the clean energy. Nuclear production dropped 64% and was replaced primarily by imports of natural gas.
Japan’s mountainous island topography also makes it relatively unsuitable for generating solar and onshore wind energy. Renewables account for just 7.6% of Japan’s power consumption. Tokyo’s current power policy looks to boost that figure to 24% by 2030, while reducing reliance on fossil fuels to 56%. But overcoming the country’s natural disadvantages will require more investment than Tokyo is currently willing to make.
According to the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank, Japan lags far behind its peers in budgeting for a green recovery from the pandemic. Tokyo provided a massive $2.1 trillion stimulus package to the economy—amounting to 40% of GDP—but only allocated $103 million of it to a “green transition.” For comparison, South Korea issued stimulus equivalent to 12% of its GDP with $25 billion earmarked for sustainable development.
Suga’s announcement will be a welcome move if and when it comes Monday, but setting a target is the easy bit. Hopefully as more countries set similar goals, the means to get there will become clearer too.