Japan: A Climate Laggard

The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the second half of this century. While many states have accelerated their efforts towards decarbonisation, Japan is no doubt a laggard in this company.  

By Masahiko Iguchi, Kyoto Sangyo University and Steinar Andresen, FNI
Japanese climate policy has backlashed significantly since the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster in 2011. Japan used to rely heavily on nuclear power but due to this accident it has increased its dependency on fossil fuels, seriously hampering any ambitious climate policy.  Japan also declined to participate in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Japan once seemed like an ambitious leader in combatting climate change, launching a 25 per cent reduction target (by 2020) from 1990-levels in 2009, but its post-Fukushima climate policy led to a reduction target of only 3.8 per cent from 2005 level, equivalent to a 3.1 per cent increase from 1990-levels.

Nevertheless, Japan has made some progress. It approved a new climate plan in May 2016 after the adoption of the Paris Agreement. It set a long term target of 80 per cent reduction by 2050 (with no reference level), as well as a mid-term target of 26 per cent reduction from 2013 level (equivalent to a 18 per cent reduction from 1990-levels) by 2030. Furthermore, despite an increasing dependency on fossil fuels, a feed-in-tariff system introduced in 2012 successfully expanded the production of renewable energy. It resulted in an increase of renewable energy in electricity generation from some 10 per cent in 2010 to some 15 per cent in 2015. Also, Tokyo started a mandatory cap-and-trade programme that succeeded to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent in 2015. 
Japan’s future climate policy faces two main challenges.  
First, the country's fossil fuel dependency will largely remained unchanged under the current 2030 plan. Although the government proposes to double its renewable energy use by 2030, fossil fuels will still remain the major source of electric generation. In particular, coal power in electricity generation has increased dramatically over the last years. As a result, Japan’s carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 13 per cent compared to 1990-levels.  
Second, the government has not introduced any additional large-scale measures (such as expanding the Tokyo policy to a nation-wide ETS) to tackle this trend. Due to the strong position of industry, their close ties to key ministries and the dominant political party (The Liberal Democratic Party) and a correspondingly weak position of the environmental community, Japan has relied almost solely on voluntary measures. For example, the Japan Voluntary Emission Trading Scheme (JVETS) introduced in 2005, was intended as an instrument aimed to ‘support’ GHGs reduction activities of Japanese companies, and industry’s voluntary action plans remain the major climate policy. The industry has therefore been able to avoid direct regulations. The most up-to-date climate plan mentions a possible creation of a nation-wide ETS – but whether this becomes a reality remains to be seen, and of course it depends largely on the country’s future economic conditions. Until then, Japan will have to accept being labelled an international climate change laggard.