In his first press conference as Prime Minister-designate of Japan, Kishida Fumio notably failed to mention climate change, let alone define a strategy to combat it. Japan’s position in international climate policy receives far less attention than that of the US, EU or China. But as the world’s third largest economy and fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Japan’s actions are of great importance in the global fight against climate change.
To understand Japan’s climate policy, one must first understand that it is closely related to the climate policy of the United States. As we know from seminal editions Regarding Japan’s climate policy, the US withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 gave rise to a powerful narrative in Japan that climate action without US involvement would be detrimental to the economy. Japanese. This has resulted for many years in soft climate policies labeled “very insufficientby climate policy watchdog Climate Action Tracker.
US climate policy under President George W. Bush provided an excuse for Japanese inaction, as policymakers, when criticized, could always retort that the US was further behind. While the Obama administration was determined to exercise leadership in international climate policy, it refrained from pressuring Japan to adopt more ambitious climate goals. Needless to say, there was also no pressure under the environmentally destructive Trump administration.
This is important because Japanese foreign policy is notoriously receptive to US pressure. So much so, in fact, that there is a Japanese word for such pressure from Washington: beiatsu. Due to Japan’s historical reliance on US military protection, Tokyo’s policymakers are extremely sensitive to US demands and interests. For political scientists, it is therefore almost unthinkable to attempt to explain Japanese foreign policy without taking into account the role of American pressure. The lack of US pressure to date has allowed Japan to address climate change with little urgency.
Hopes for a more proactive Japanese climate policy were also dashed by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011. In response to the disaster and public outrage over the lack of nuclear safety, the government opted to close the Japanese nuclear power plants. Like the government struggle to restart nuclear power plants, it turned to other sources to meet its energy needs. While some progress on renewable energy since 2011, rising from 9.5% to 18% of total electricity production between 2010 and 2019, Japan remains heavily dependent on coal, by far the most polluting fossil fuel. In 2019, coal represented up to 32 percent of the Japanese energy mix. A decade after the nuclear accident, it is time for Japan to readjust its energy and climate policy.
One thing is different in 2021, and it could become a deciding factor: the Biden administration’s willingness to pressure other countries to tackle the climate crisis. In one analysis of Japanese discourse on climate changewe found that former Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide never spoke about climate change in Japanese parliamentary debates during the Trump presidency, but, anticipating pressure from the new Biden administration, he started discussing climate change as a issue on which Japan and the United States should cooperate. .
It turned out that Suga’s premonitions about American pressure were justified. When they first met in person in the United States in April this year, Biden called on Japan to set an ambitious concrete emission reduction target for 2030 in order to add substance to the 2050 carbon neutrality goal that the Suga government had announced in 2020. , Japan would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. at least 46%, aiming for 50%compared to 2013 levels. To achieve this, the Japanese government recently raised its renewable energy targets by 22-24 to 36-38 percent by 2030. These goals marked belated improvements from the lackluster goals that Japan had originally announced as part of the Paris Agreement in 2015. As a result, Climate Action Tracker moved Japan’s climate policy from ” very insufficient “fairly”insufficient.”
The reason Tokyo’s climate policy rating hasn’t improved further, despite some positive developments, is Japan’s continued support for coal. The Japanese government still plans to produce 19% of its electricity from coal by 2030. While the government decided last year to close around 100 older, inefficient coal-fired power plants by 2030 and plans for new coal-fired power plants have been shelved, the factories currently under construction will be completed. This means that Japan is unlikely to phase out coal anytime soon.
In April, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said these countries continue to depend on coal and invest in coal-fired power plants “will hear from usa.” In fact, since Biden took office, the United States has pressured Japan to stop funding coal-fired power projects overseas. According to an unnamed climate finance expert we spoke to, this has mostly happened behind the scenes, meaning US pressure on Japan’s coal policy has been far less overt than its pressure on carbon targets. Japanese shows.
While Suga’s announcement at the G-7 meeting in June that Japan end subsidies for overseas coal-fired power projects should be welcomed, it comes with an important caveat: Japan will not end projects already underway and the announcement may not apply to what Japanese officials call highly efficient coal-fired power plants. . The latter simply refers to next-generation coal-fired power plants that burn coal more efficiently but still emit huge amounts of CO2, leaving a backdoor wide open for continued government support for coal-fired power projects in the stranger. Japan remains far from making its coal policy compatible with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree Celsius target.
Earlier this year, Biden and Suga promised make “the climate crisis a pillar of the US-Japan bilateral partnership” and “make the necessary efforts to keep a warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach”. There is a window of opportunity for the United States and Japan to live up to their stated ambitions for climate leadership, but it is rapidly closing due to the urgency of the “widespread, rapid and intensifying“climate crisis. Like Japan, the Biden administration’s climate policies are still being judged”insufficientby the Climate Action Tracker. In fact, the most recent E3G Coal Dashboard coal policies of the G-7 countries rank the United States and Japan in fifth and seventh place respectively. Obviously, both countries still have a long way to go.
Less than a month before the UN climate summit in Glasgow in early November, the world will be watching Kishida and Biden’s actions on climate change. Kishida’s blissful ignorance on climate change may not last long as Biden is sure to remind him of the promise made by his predecessor. This should include more open pressure on Japan to stop building and funding coal-fired power plants. Former Prime Minister Suga said that “The United States is Japan’s best friend.” What good are best friends if not to tell you hard truths that need to be told?