A Japanese political expert uttered a memorable phrase when I asked her why Kishida Fumio had recently become the country’s prime minister.
“People who don’t bow down aren’t valued as leaders,” said Keiko Iizuka, a political writer at the Yomiuri Shimbun and lead commentator for the nightly news program News in Depth (Shinso News).
Kishida, she explained, took her bow seriously, bowing her head to influential politicians and leaders of organizations. He told them that if they supported his candidacy for high office, he would become their humble servant.
According to Iizuka, it was Kishida’s meeting with the president of the Keidanren – the powerful Japanese business confederation – which assured him the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party, in preference to other more charismatic candidates.
The business group, currently chaired by Sumitomo’s Tokura Masakazu, agrees that Kishida’s policies based on the concept of a “new capitalism” are consistent with their own approach.
After being selected for the top job in the LDP, Kishida led the party to an election on October 31. The LDP won enough votes to maintain an overall majority in the lower house of the Japanese Diet.
As soon as the election results were confirmed – and before he had appointed a new foreign minister – Kishida flew to Glasgow, Scotland, to take part in the most intense diplomatic event of the year: the United Nations COP26 conference on climate change.
It gave him the opportunity for a brief face-to-face with US President Joe Biden, as well as a platform to hail Japan’s role in the fight against global warming, particularly in Asia.
The Prime Minister spoke about the technological skills of Japanese companies in developing systems to switch from existing thermal energy sources to zero-emission renewable energies.
He pointed out that the government was seeking to act in harmony with big business and Sogo Shosha trading houses, such as Sumitomo, to develop green energy opportunities in the Asian region.
Kishida said the government would support “an innovative climate finance facility, as we partner with the Asian Development Bank and others to support Asia’s decarbonization and beyond.”
He also said Japan would fund projects worth $100 million under the Asia Energy Transition Initiative, using cleaner alternative fuels, such as ammonia and hydrogen.
However, Kishida was careful not to promise actions that could be considered too ambitious by the business lobby. Japanese CEOs are often impatient with prime ministers who interfere with corporate decisions and may act to undermine them politically.
Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, Abe Shinzo, has been cautious about speaking out on climate change unless he has consulted with business leaders first.
Nevertheless, Kishida’s immediate predecessor, Suga Yoshihide, announced an ambitious target when he was prime minister, promising that Japan would reduce its emissions by 2030 by 46% below 2013 levels, a 20% reduction from to the previous goal.
There has been much debate about how this vision can be achieved. The government is currently working on a new energy strategy in close consultation with industry.
It was significant that at COP26 in Glasgow, Japan was not among the 46 countries that pledged to phase out coal by the 2040s. Sharma, agreed to water down the final statement to include a commitment to “phase out” coal instead.
Japan, which derives about 30% of its electricity from coal, plans to reduce it to less than 20% by 2030, but has no timetable for abandoning it altogether. This frustrates environmental activists, but progress has been slowed by the difficulty of restarting nuclear reactors that shut down after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.
Similarly, Japanese automakers, such as Toyota, weren’t on the list of automakers who signed a statement in Glasgow saying they were committed to phasing out production of fossil-fuel vehicles worldwide. 2040.
This is surprising, considering Japan’s pioneering role in green transportation. However, the automotive sector appears to assess technological developments and assess market trends before allowing the government to make commitments on its behalf.
The British government, which hosted COP26, hailed it as a diplomatic success, pointing to important agreements on reducing emissions, several of which had Japan’s full support.
Japan has joined more than 100 countries that have pledged to halt deforestation by 2030. More than 68% – or about 24 million hectares – of Japan is forested and current deforestation rates are low, according to the platform. Mongabay conservation information.
The Japanese delegation also agreed to abide by a program to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Biden called methane “one of the most potent greenhouse gases there is.”
Kishida hopes to be able to arrange another meeting with Biden soon, during which environmental issues, as well as defense and security, will be discussed.
Japan’s foreign ministry was determined that the newly elected prime minister would appear in person among world leaders in Glasgow, especially as China’s leader, Xi Jinping, was not present.
Biden used his press conference to criticize Xi’s absence. “It’s a gigantic problem and they’ve just walked away,” he said, adding, “How do you do that and claim to have a leadership role?”
China says Xi chose not to travel to Glasgow due to concerns over COVID-19 and because he was chairing a major Chinese Communist Party plenum in Beijing.
Nevertheless, while COP26 was still underway, the United States and China announced a joint declaration on the fight against climate change, which included the endorsement of two agreements also signed by Japan: the reduction of emissions of methane and forest protection.
Following the conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped COP26 “would mark the beginning of the end on climate change” and US Representative John Kerry suggested that the he inclusion of any coal commitment was a success.
Kerry said: “We always knew Glasgow was not the finish line and anyone who thought it was doesn’t understand the challenge we have.”
Referring to the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and trying to keep it to 1.5 Celsius, Kerry added: ” Paris built the arena, Glasgow started the race, and tonight the start the shot was fired.”
Shortly after returning to Tokyo from the COP26 conference, Kishida announced that he had chosen Hayashi Yoshimasa as foreign minister.
Hayashi previously served as chairman of the Japan-China Friendship Parliamentary Group, which promotes good relations with Beijing. Upon his appointment as the country’s top foreign envoy, he resigned from that position.
Speaking to the press, Hayashi stressed that Japan will “exercise leadership” in tackling global issues such as climate change.
Hayashi also said he would firmly face difficult issues in relations with China, South Korea and other neighboring countries, while striving to establish stable ties.
Hayashi’s rhetoric since his appointment has often referred to “a free and open Indo-Pacific”. This diplomatic term matches that of the State Department in Washington to describe the tense region of the world that contains Japan and China. There is also a similar tone in the diplomatic language of the United States and Japan on climate change.
Despite the compromise on coal at COP26, the government of Kishida can nevertheless boast of having supported an ambitious pact to contain the rise in temperatures.
The final text of the conference communiqué asks countries to come together next year with stronger plans to reduce carbon emissions. This gives Kishida valuable time to work more on Japan’s energy strategy and ensure it receives industry approval.