Japan faces scrutiny over details of $1.1 billion climate plan

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Power crisis: A woman stands under a cooling haze in Tokyo during the June heatwave. Residents have been warned to limit the use of air conditioning to avoid a power outage © Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Almost two years ago, when Japan unveiled its ambitions to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, few could have predicted that the world would now be plunged into an energy crisis and Tokyo would be on the brink. from a massive power outage last month due to a record heat wave.

For Fumio Kishida, appointed Prime Minister last year, the radically different geopolitical landscape and soaring energy prices have raised the economic and political stakes in the fight against climate change. Highlighting the national security risks, Kishida has positioned climate change as a central pillar of his new economic agenda to create a “stronger, more sustainable version of capitalism”.

“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has clearly shown the importance of energy security,” Kishida said during a speech in London in May. “Climate change remains a pressing issue.”

As part of his ‘Invest in Kishida’ sales pitch to investors, the prime minister unveiled an ambitious plan to deploy 150 billion yen ($1.1 billion) over the next decade to meet the target 2050 and its interim target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 46 percent. hundred, by 2030.

The vast war chest of government and private money will be used to promote renewable energy and electric vehicles, as well as to advance the digitalization and development of technologies such as hydrogen and ammonia, according to a report. of 160 pages on Japan’s clean energy strategy, released after his speech in May.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a speech to business leaders at London's Guildhall

‘Climate change remains a pressing issue’: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke to business leaders at London’s Guildhall © Yomiuri Shimbun

But, while the overall figure is impressive, the project lacks fundamental details, including how the government will fund the effort.

Kishida said he was considering a new type of government bond – called “green economy transformation bonds” – to finance about 20 billion yen of decarbonization measures. However, no further details on funding were provided.

Experts also say there is a lack of clarity on the feasibility of the strategy, which is highly dependent on technologies that are still under development.

“It is absolutely necessary to invest money in the research and development of zero-emission technologies,” says Yukari Takamura, a professor at the University of Tokyo. “But, if we’re going to deploy taxpayers’ money, there’s also a need for the government to do a technology assessment.”

Take the case of ammonia derived from hydrogen. Takamura says it’s unclear if this is the type of technology that can be used for all coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions, or if it can only be used on a limited scale.

A woman wears a handkerchief over her head during a heatwave in Tokyo

Heatwave in Tokyo: Temperatures topped 35°C after a record end to the annual rainy season © Kim Kyung-Hoon/

People walk in bright sunlight in Tokyo's Ginza district

The heat has led to official warnings to reduce energy consumption © Ryoichiro Kida/Yomiuri Shimbun

There was also ambiguity over the timeline for rolling out these technologies to meet the 2050 target. In the short term, companies would prefer to use existing technology to reduce their carbon footprint, as evidenced by automotive industry lobbying for preserve gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles. But a longer-term plan on the availability of new technologies is also needed.

“There has been such a transition in the energy industry that they have had to tackle decarbonization, but the way they approach the problem is based on Japan’s traditional management style which looks at two to three years – so it’s hard to come up with a much longer-term strategy,” says Takamura.

Some supermarkets have dimmed the lights to save electricity © Ryoichiro Kida / The Yomiuri Shi

As companies limited their use of lighting © Masaki Furumaya / The Yomiuri Sh

For Japan, which relies heavily on imported energy, the crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine is a double-edged sword. The danger – as evidenced by Poland, Germany and the Netherlands – is a pivot to highly polluting quick fixes, such as coal-fired power plants. Even without threats to Russian energy, Japan has been forced to restart idle plants to deal with the power shortage.

Analysts, however, say there could be longer-term benefits. The rising cost of imported oil and coal as well as severe electricity shortages have forced the country to ponder the future of nuclear power – a debate that has been on the back burner since the 2011 meltdowns at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima Daiichi.

In 2010, nuclear power accounted for more than 11% of Japan’s total energy and a third of its electricity needs. But, after the 2011 nuclear accident, the country shut down its nuclear power plants and burned more fossil fuels.

“It’s not necessarily that Japan takes three steps back” due to the current energy crisis, says Ken-ichiro Nishio, a senior research engineer at the Central Electric Power Industry Research Institute. “As well as reaffirming the importance of energy security, there is also momentum to address the nuclear debate, which Japan has tended to avoid until now.”

Global inflation and the need to reduce Japan’s dependence on Russian energy have highlighted the importance of local energy.

For electricity generation, the current energy mix in Japan is 32% coal, 37% liquefied natural gas (LNG), 7% oil, 6% nuclear and 18% renewable energy. The government plans to readjust the mix to 36-38% renewables, 20-22% nuclear, 20% LNG, 19% coal and 2% oil by 2030.

Rising oil and coal prices have made the long-term financial case for renewable energy more attractive. In the short term, however, the cost of adopting renewables has added to already skyrocketing household electricity bills.

Experts say more discussion is needed on incentives and state support to encourage users to take advantage of decarbonized electricity sources.

“We need to rebalance costs,” says Nishio. “Instead of just letting electricity prices rise, society as a whole needs to consider ways to support the transition to cleaner energy.”

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