Can the US-Japan Climate Partnership Lead Asia’s Decarbonization?


Author: Satoshi Kurokawa, Waseda University

At U.S.-Japan Leaders Summit on April 16, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga signed the US-Japan Climate Partnership on Ambition, Decarbonization and Clean Energy. This climate partnership should have a significant impact positive impact on Japan’s climate policy and decarbonization efforts in Asia-Pacific economies.

The summit took place a week before Biden’s Climate Leaders Summit, where he pledged to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States by 50-52% by 2030 from 2005 levels. Suga announced that Japan would reduce its GHG emissions to 46 percent below 2013 levels by 2030, with the goal of achieving a 50% reduction. Without the US-Japan Climate Partnership, Japan might not have set such an ambitious interim target, which was 77% higher than its previous interim target of 26%.

Before the collapse of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Japan was a major player in global climate policy. But the accident changed the entire climate policy landscape in Japan, which previously relied heavily on nuclear power. In 2019, nuclear produced only 6.2% electricity, compared to around 30% before the Fukushima disaster. Electricity produced in thermal power plants compensated for the electricity deficit and GHG emissions peaked in 2013.

Japan has lagged behind other developed countries in the fight for decarbonization. Japan’s reduction targets under the Paris Agreement were unambitious – committing to a carbon reduction of just 26% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 from baseline levels. 2013.

The Japanese government has legislated a feed-in tariff system to encourage the use of renewable energy. In 2019, approximately 18 percent of the electricity came from renewable sources, including large hydroelectric plants. Tightened regulations following the Fukushima disaster make it difficult to bring other nuclear reactors back into service. The liberalization of the electricity retail market has also encouraged the continued construction of coal-fired power plants that can produce electricity at competitive prices or at lower cost.

The government has encouraged the construction of energy-efficient coal-fired power stations to replace old, inefficient ones, while encouraging exports of coal-fired power stations to developing countries, saying it will help them reduce emissions. These policies have been criticized as being at odds with global decarbonization efforts.

of Prime Minister Suga policy statement in the Japanese Diet in October 2020 was a turning point. He said that “by 2050, Japan will aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero…to realize a carbon-neutral and decarbonized society.” This came a month after Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged for China to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. Japan’s carbon neutral goal was incorporated into the Global Warming Countermeasures Promotion Act on May 26.

Japan’s new zero carbon goal called for a new target for 2030. Initially, the Japanese government envisioned a 35% reduction as an achievable goal. The U.S.-Japan Leaders’ Summit led Japan to commit to a 46-50% reduction by 2030.

This goal was not based on a feasibility analysis, but on Suga’s political decision to advance cooperation with the Biden administration. The Japanese government will need to drastically change its climate strategy to meet the new 2030 target, including moving away from reliance on coal-fired power plants. In April 2021, two large coal-fired power plant projects were canceled, leaving no new such projects in Japan. But it will also be necessary to decommission a number of active coal-fired power plants to meet the 46% target. The electricity shortage should be solved by renewable energy and the introduction of safer nuclear reactors, such as small modular reactors.

The U.S.-Japan Climate Partnership is the result of the U.S.-Japan Leaders’ Summit, where the two countries renewed their alliance to stabilize the so-called Indo-Pacific region. The Biden administration wants to engage China more actively on climate issues, and Japan’s return to the climate coalition of developed countries could help expand cooperation on this front. From a national security perspective, Japan has moved closer to the US vision for the region.

The U.S.-Japan Climate Partnership includes cooperation on accelerating low-carbon societal transitions in Asia-Pacific countries. The Japanese government has also seems to be ending support for new overseas coal-fired power projects in developing countries that do not have decarbonization plans.

China is now the biggest sponsor of coal-fired power plants in the developing world. Engaging with China through climate partnerships to help decarbonization efforts in developing countries will be essential for the region to move towards carbon neutrality.

Satoshi Kurokawa is a professor of environmental law and administrative law at Waseda University.


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