On April 22 and 23, US President Joe Biden will host dozens of world leaders at the Virtual Leaders Summit on Climate. The summit is an important opportunity for the United States and Japan to build on last week’s bilateral meeting and reestablish their global climate leadership. In recent years, the two major democracies have been widely criticized as lagging behind on climate change, a narrative their leaders seek to reverse. This will require not only proactive diplomacy, but also the institutionalization of green politics and the taming of policy volatility at the national level.
Over the past 30 years, climate policy in the United States and Japan has been unstable, inconsistent, and insufficient. In the United States, climate change has become a polarized and partisan issue. Much like his recent Republican predecessors, former President Donald Trump rolled back a series of climate change mitigation policies; it also withdrew from the Paris Agreement. Similarly, Japan has struggled to sustain progress on emissions reductions, and former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (2012-2020) was condemned for cutting Japan’s feed-in tariffs and supporting power plants in Japan. coal in the country and abroad.
Last week’s bilateral meeting between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide laid the groundwork for the climate summit, with the United States and Japan announcing global leadership on climate. Governments seek to use energy cooperation to address climate change, geostrategic challenges raised by China, and other issues of common concern. However, the two countries’ track record of volatility and inconsistency makes some countries skeptical of their reliability as partners.
An urgent task for both countries is to institutionalize climate policy through national, bilateral and multilateral mechanisms that last longer than any administration. This means building partnerships that focus on business opportunities and irreversible investments in the transformation of the energy sector. Institutionalizing initiatives and creating vested interests in green technologies and green growth will be key to preventing future rollbacks on climate commitments.
U.S.-Japan Climate Partnership
The U.S.-Japan Climate Partnership on Ambition, Decarbonization and Clean Energy, announced April 16 while Suga was in Washington, D.C., is a natural extension of existing bilateral initiatives, but it also signals a significant shift compared to the policies of previous governments. .
The Biden and Suga governments will pursue projects such as the Japan-US-Mekong Energy Partnership (JUMPP) and cooperation on nuclear energy technology. But, in line with Biden and Suga’s stated intentions to pursue carbon neutrality by 2050, the Japan-US Strategic Energy Partnership (JUSEP) has been upgraded to the Japan-US Clean Energy Partnership (JUCEP), which will go beyond past cooperative activities on research and technology development, within the framework of the Paris Agreement and the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.
More importantly, their joint statements and accompanying rhetoric highlighted the role of the United States and Japan as emerging leaders in a number of areas related to climate change mitigation. To exercise real leadership, it will be essential to develop concrete measures and policies to not only deepen cooperation, but also accelerate national decarbonization.
Green technologies and green growth
The COVID-19 pandemic presents a potentially transformative opportunity for governments to overcome entrenched resistance to climate policies. It starts with a green recovery from the pandemic as the first step towards sustainable green growth. Emerging green industries can be promoted and nurtured through government investment, support and international linkages. Green growth can also solve energy security issues, such as Japan’s long-standing reliance on fossil fuel imports. The pandemic further provides a window of opportunity to design multilateral frameworks to more effectively address global dimensions of climate change such as taxation, green border adjustment and asset repricing.
The U.S.-Japan Climate Partnership expands existing cooperation to include “renewable energy, energy storage (such as batteries and long-term energy storage technologies), smart grid, energy efficiency , hydrogen, carbon capture, use and storage/carbon recycling, industrial decarbonization and advanced nuclear energy. The partnership will target both domestic and foreign needs. For example, the United States and Japan need to modernize their own grids and integrate renewable energy into the grid. And, through the advancement and transfer of smart grid technology, they can also contribute to the modernization and efficiency of the energy sectors of other countries.
Even though Japan is a leader in the research and development of clean energy technologies, it has encountered obstacles in turning this into profitable ventures in the market. US industry had early successes with clean energy technologies, but China has come to dominate much of the business landscape. In partnership, Japan and the United States may be able to compete more effectively with China and reassert their market share.
Offer an alternative to China
Japan-US energy cooperation is part of a broader geostrategic and geoeconomic strategy in the region and globally. Their collaboration presents an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the energy infrastructure sector. Clean energy is consistent with Japan’s promotion of quality infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific as an alternative to Chinese initiatives. For Japan, committing to a strong move away from coal will be key to making this strategy credible.
Although China and the United States will have to cooperate on climate change, they are also likely to compete to promote their own visions of the future. The U.S.-Japan leaders’ joint statement presented a worldview where the United States and Japan stand on the side of “freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law, international law, multilateralism and a free and fair economic order. “Climate leadership was the missing piece of Japan’s new leadership for the liberal international order. Multilateral cooperation on green technologies, green recovery, green growth and climate partnerships will be critical areas as the United States and Japan seek to reassert their global leadership and present an alternative to China.
Leader of multilateral cooperation
Joint statements by the United States and Japan called not only for national efforts and bilateral cooperation, but also for the promotion of a global goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Although the UNFCCC process has significant shortcomings and could be sabotaged by future administrations, both countries must continue to work with global partners to move the agenda forward.
In addition to global multilateral cooperation, the United States and Japan can help Southeast Asian countries meet an expected 6 percent increase in annual electricity consumption without resorting to high-carbon technologies. carbon or an overreliance on Chinese debt diplomacy. Building on JUMPP, promoting investment in green technologies through bilateral and multilateral partnerships can perpetuate the United States and Japan as climate leaders and diplomatic partners in the region. It will have the added benefit of integrating US and Japanese businesses and economic interests into the region’s energy infrastructure.
The Japan-US bilateral climate commitment is a significant development and encompasses national security, economic development, energy security and environmental goals. It also reflects the domestic and foreign policy interests of Biden and Suga. For Biden, this creates a clean break with the Trump administration and advances key pillars of his domestic and foreign policy agenda, including a recommitment to allies and multilateralism, countering China’s growing influence and clean energy infrastructure. For Suga, it reinforces his good faith as a steady hand in managing Japan-US relations and signals Japan’s continued desire to play a global leadership role.
For both leaders, it will be crucial to move ambitiously and quickly in the direction of decarbonization. Future policy reversals may be made more costly by institutionalization, large-scale infrastructure investments, and the growth of successful green businesses that thwart vested interests tied to the fossil fuel sector. For the United States and Japan to become undisputed leaders on climate change, it will be essential to expand into new areas of cooperation and overcome potential sources of setbacks at home.