How will Tokyo’s solar panel mandate deal with allegations of forced labor in China? – The Diplomat

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On September 9, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government unveiled a new policy requiring homebuilders and developers to install solar panels on new buildings and homes from spring 2025. Not all new homes and buildings will be subject to this requirement, which applies to homes and buildings whose total floor area is less than 2,000 square meters. Houses with a roof area of ​​less than 20 square meters will be exempt. About 50 large Japanese companies are expected to be affected by the new requirements.

This is the first time that a Japanese city has adopted a mandate for the installation of solar panels. Announcing the new policy, Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko said, “To achieve decarbonization, it is essential to raise awareness among Tokyo residents.” She added, “I hope this will be a turning point in history that will make people say, ‘Tokyo has changed.'”

The requirement to install solar panels on new buildings in Tokyo is a key policy decision for Japan’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, given that around 70% of carbon dioxide emissions come from air conditioning, hot water supply and electric lighting. within buildings. To date, solar power equipment has not been widely installed on city buildings.

The mandatory installation of solar panels in buildings in Tokyo would also help to ensure a more stable energy supply. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has accelerated his energy policy since the Russian-Ukrainian war. Japan plans to reduce its dependence on Russian energyand in this context, Tokyo’s mandate for solar panels could help strengthen Japan’s energy security.

Installing solar panels helps residents save money on long-term energy costs. However, it is not the customers but the developers who are forced to install solar panels on new buildings in Tokyo. In order to minimize installation costs, developers may want to purchase inexpensive, imported solar panels, and they may look to China

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Solar panels made in China used to be considered poor quality compared to those made in Japan, but now Chinese manufacture of solar panels produce high quality products and export them to Japan and all over the world. And even if Chinese companies don’t manufacture the finished product, they export the necessary basic elements all over the world. According to the revised version of the “Special Report on Solar PV Global Supply Chain” published in August 2022 by the International Energy Agency (OUCH), China produces nearly 95% of the polysilicon components, ingots and wafers used in solar panels. “The world will depend almost entirely on China for the supply of key elements for solar panel production until 2025,” the report said.

In this context, Koike must clearly explain a plan to ensure that the solar panels of new buildings in Tokyo are not tainted with human rights violations, in particular forced labor in China. Last year, researchers from Sheffield Hallam University reported that around 45% of the world’s supply of polysilicon, a key component of solar panels, was made in China’s Xinjiang region, the product of forced labor by Uyghur Muslims.

On September 9, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government explained in a Questions and answers Regarding the requirement to install solar panels, some developers have told the government that they do not use solar panels made in Xinjiang. However, the response is not enough to assure Tokyo residents that the solar panels needed for new homes are not made by forced labor. Ultimately, Koike is responsible for a much clearer explanation and should guarantee that the Tokyo solar panel mandate will not be complicit in forced labor in Xinjiang.

In the USA, a bipartisan bill, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), was signed into law by President Joe Biden in December 2021, to ban imports of goods produced by forced labor. The UFLPA, which came into effect in June 2022, is unique in that it assumes that any goods produced in Xinjiang involved forced labor, unless the company can prove otherwise. Solar panels and components are a key area for the law’s implementation, given Xinjiang’s important role in the industry.

Marti Flacks, director of the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), underline that it is important that other countries introduce similar restrictions in order to effectively stop forced labour. Japan, as a key US ally, should pass similar legislation; otherwise the solar boom presaged by Tokyo’s solar panel mandate would only aggravate forced labor in Xinjiang.

The U.S. government argued in this year’s human rights report that acts of “genocide” against Muslims in the region had been committed, although Beijing criticized Washington, calling the report “full of political lies and ideological bias”. In the United Kingdom, parliamentarians unanimously approved a movement denouncing China’s treatment of Uyghurs as genocide. Likewise, in a non-binding votethe European Parliament harshly criticized human rights violations in Xinjiang, such as forced labor and forced sterilizations, as “crimes against humanity” and warned of “a serious risk of genocide” against the Uighurs.

In the case of Japan, the Japanese government has not signed or ratified the Genocide Convention. However, a nonpartisan parliamentary league to examine Japanese human rights diplomacy, which was formed last year, adopted a resolution in April 2022 to ask the Japanese government to ratify the Genocide Convention in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian war. If the Kishida government supports Tokyo’s solar panel mandate as part of its carbon neutrality strategy, the government will have to explain whether what happened in Xinjiang is genocide or not. As part of this process, Japan should ratify the Genocide Convention by overcoming its negative historical legacy as well as legal and constitutional constraints. The Kishida administration has a moral responsibility to facilitate Japan’s early ratification of the Genocide Convention, which will strengthen Japan’s global leadership in human rights diplomacy.

Japan’s newest “Strategic Energy Plan” was formulated on the basis of safety, energy security, economic efficiency, environmental sustainability (S+3E), but it should be transformed into “S+4E” by adding “ethics” to the postulate of the strategic energy plan. Based on the ethical standard, Japan, as the third largest consumer of solar energy, is expected to facilitate its goal of carbon neutrality by introducing more renewable energy and approving Tokyo’s solar panel mandate.

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