JAPAN'S NEW CLIMATE COMMITMENT - FINE WORDS BUT THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

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26 october 2020

[4C comment on this news by Piper Hollier - 'The Devil is in the details' - will follow the article from The Guardian]

Japan will become carbon neutral by 2050, PM pledges

Yoshihide Suga says dealing with climate change is no longer a constraint on growth as he sets out a bolder approach to the emergency


Justin McCurry in Tokyo, The Guardian, Mon 26 Oct 2020

Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has said the country will become carbon neutral by 2050, heralding a bolder approach to tackling the climate emergency by the world’s third-biggest economy.

“Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth,” Suga said on Monday in his first policy address to parliament since taking office.

“We need to change our thinking to the view that taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about growth.”

To applause from MPs, he added: “I declare we will aim to realise a decarbonised society.”

Japan had come under pressure to strengthen its climate commitments after initially saying that it would achieve an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 followed by carbon neutrality “as soon as possible” in the second half of the century.

The policy shift brings Japan into line with the European Union, which set itself a similar target last year, while China recently announced it would become carbon-free by 2060.

Doubts remain about Japan’s ability to achieve that goal given its heavy reliance on coal and other fossil fuels, and public opposition to increasing nuclear’s share of the energy mix almost 10 years after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
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Japan’s current energy plan, set in 2018, calls for 22-24% of its energy to come from renewables, 20-22% from nuclear power and 56% from fossil fuels.

Suga, who replaced Shinzo Abe in mid-September, did not provide details on how Japan would reduce carbon emissions to zero, but said it would promote renewable energy and proritise safety as it seeks a bigger role for nuclear.

Suga said he would speed up research and development on key technologies such as next-generation solar batteries and carbon recycling, and promised to “fundamentally change Japan’s long-term reliance on coal-fired energy”.

But Japan, the world’s fifth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, has struggled to cut emissions since the 2011 Fukushima meltdown forced the closure of dozens of nuclear reactors, only a small number of which have restarted.

Greenpeace Japan welcomed Suga’s commitment to carbon neutrality, but said there should be no role for nuclear power.

“Nearly 10 years on from Fukushima we are still facing the disastrous consequences of nuclear power, and this radioactive legacy has made clear that nuclear energy has no place in a green, sustainable future,” the group’s executive director, Sam Annesley, said in a statement.

“If we are to achieve net zero by 2050, we must massively increase Japan’s renewable energy capacity, with a target of 50% renewable electricity by 2030. Anything less than 50% and Japan risks falling short of net zero, and more importantly risks driving the world above 1.5 degrees as per the Paris climate agreement.”

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4C comment on this news by Piper Hollier

As always, the devil is in the details:

... [Japan] aims to increase the share of renewables to 22-24 percent by 2030 [from 16% in 2017], and nuclear power to 20-22 percent [from 3% in 2017] ...

So renewables go up by less than 50% in more than a decade, while nuclear power goes up sevenfold. "What is wrong with this picture?"

We must always be deeply skeptical of vague promises made for a time frame of three decades into the future. The oil majors in particular are doing a lot of heavily publicized greenwashing based on loose promises for 2050, 2060, and even 2070. It is clear enough that they are almost certainly never going to be able to fulfill these promises. Their scenarios depend on massive deployment of unproven technologies such as CCS and on depending on the next two generations to dare to do that which we have not dared to do ourselves in the areas of curtailing consumption and investing heavily in new infrastructure for renewable power generation and distribution.

When Urgenda presented their climate case before the Dutch court in 2015, they brilliantly argued that all scenarios that lead to sufficient reductions in 2050 must inevitably start off with (painfully!) steep reductions in the first decade. If we cannot set highly ambitious goals for 2030 and monitor every year in the 2020s that we are credibly on the way to meeting them, we are doomed to fail in the longer term.

Thus far, very little of this reality has seeped into the public consciousness or into the mindset of policy makers anywhere.

Japan has enormous as yet undeveloped potential for:

* importing green hydrogen, green ammonia, and responsibly produced biomass to substitute for coal in power generation;

* importing green fertilizer and green steel to reduce its carbon footprint indirectly;

* rooftop solar, especially on its larger industrial, commercial, institutional, and governmental buildings;

* floating wind farms, where Japan could apply its talents at technological innovation to good effect;

* deep geothermal - another area where technological innovation could lead to significant advances; and

* participation in an Asian supergrid that could bring in green power from Korea, Siberia, and eventually as far away as solar panel arrays in the Chinese desert.

Nearly all of this involves off-the-shelf technology that is already being implemented at a large scale elsewhere. All that is lacking in Japan is vision and ambition at a higher level than we are seeing now.

At present it looks like the best we are likely to see from Japan if the present plan goes ahead is mass production of next-generation nukes. These may be less prone to accidents than what we now have, but both Japan and the rest of us will still be burdened with the same issues of radioactive waste disposal and proliferation concerns.
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