Although there are demands for ambitious climate policies in Japan, the suppliers who could fulfill these demands usually pay attention to industry, not civil society. For more radical changes to occur and to become institutionalized, stronger voices of civil society and new challenger businesses must arise. Until that happens, vested interests within the country’s political structure will continue to block long-term change towards a low-carbon society.

By Dragana Davidovic


  • A resource-poor country reliant on foreign imports to meet its energy demands
  • GHG emissions peaked in 2005, with an increase of 890 MtCO2e from 1990 levels
  • Reduced the ambition-level of its emissions reduction target from 25 per cent to an equivalent of 18 per cent from 1990 levels in 2015
  • A nuclear disaster in 2011 drove emissions to 14 per cent above 1990 levels in 2012, increasing imports of fossil fuels by 58 per cent in the three following years


Based on the new (2015) book The Domestic Politics of Global Climate: Key Actors in International Climate Cooperation.
Edited by Guri Bang, Arild Underdal and Steinar Andresen and the chapter Japan’s climate policy: post-Fukushima and beyond by Masahiko Iguchi, Alexandru Luta and Steinar Andresen.

Global Carbon Atlas

Key Facts

Japan is the world’s largest importer of liquefied natural gas, second-largest importer of coal, and third-largest consumer and net importer of oil. Japan is the fifth largest CO2-emitter with 1246 million metric tons emitted in 2013, accounting for about 3 per cent of the world total. Per capita emissions are 9.8 tons annually. Japan has one of the lowest energy intensities in the world, due to large investments in R&D of energy technology since the 1970’s which have increased energy efficiency. Japan has limited domestic energy resources that stand for less than 9 per cent of total energy consumption since 2012, compared to about 20 per cent before the removal of nuclear power following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in 2011. The significant loss of nuclear power has been replaced with larger imports of fossil fuels.  

Oil is still the largest source of energy, although its share of total energy consumption has declined from 80 per cent in the 1970s to 44 per cent in 2013. Coal accounts for 27 per cent of total energy consumption. Natural gas (22 per cent) is becoming increasingly important as the preferred fuel to replace the shortfall in nuclear power. Nuclear energy accounted for about 13 per cent of Japan’s energy consumption in 2010, now this has fallen to less than 1 per cent. Hydropower (4 per cent) and other renewable energy sources (2 per cent) still account for a relatively small share, even though renewables are growing as an alternative energy source.

Policy Supply and Demand

Japan’s climate policy has been through significant changes in recent years and frequent shifts of governments between 2007 and 2013 have given rise to various emission reduction pledges. In 2009, a leading international GHG emissions reduction target was announced, proposing a 25 per cent decrease from 1990 levels by 2020. Today, there is a much more modest target of a 26 per cent reduction from the 2013 level by 2030, keeping in mind that the costs of reducing emissions in Japan are particularly high because of its high energy efficiency. While the brief rule of the DPJ party provided a truly ambitious climate policy, the LDP party has shown a quite reluctant commitment, playing a minimal role in developing climate policy.

The industrial and energy sectors haven been determining their own Voluntary Action Plan (VAP) for climate action. The energy-intensive industry and big businesses, working with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), have been the de facto suppliers of Japan’s climate policy. While the Japanese public has expressed increasing concerns of climate change and supported more proactive measures, and new business associations have challenged the VAP, their influence on policy-making is still limited.  

In 2014, the government issued its new energy policy, stressing energy security, economic efficiency and emissions reduction. Key goals and plans include strengthening the share of renewables, diversifying away from oil to reduce dependency in the transport sector, and developing the most advanced generation technologies using fossil fuels. The government intends to resume the use of nuclear energy, with necessary safety measures. It believes that the use of nuclear power is required to reduce current energy supply strains and the high energy prices that domestic industries and energy users currently face.      

Domestic Drivers and Barriers

The main driver in Japanese policy-making is economic growth. Maintaining competitiveness of Japanese industries remains a huge concern, as exporting manufacturing industries account for more than 20 per cent of GDP. This has blocked the development of Japanese climate policy. The fear is that an ambitious climate policy will have a disastrous effect on the economy if other major emitters do not pledge similar mitigation efforts. Japanese climate-policymaking has been largely fragmented because of the conflicting perspectives involved.

While the METI with its considerable influence on climate policy has promoted competitiveness of the Japanese industry, the MOE with limited financial and human resources has struggled in promoting more ambitious climate policies. With the emissions stemming from increased imports of fossil fuels, and increased energy use in the household, commercial and transportation sectors, the VAP will no longer be enough to keep emissions from the industrial and energy sectors down. This puts strong pressure on the government to develop a more forceful policy package to tackle Japan’s future emissions.   

The Future  

The iron-triangle of the LDP party, bureaucrats and business associations, and the dominant position of the METI, is likely to continue allowing powerful industrial influences in setting the frames of climate policy. As the industry and big businesses are in favor of reintroducing nuclear energy, this might contribute to a relative reduction in emissions over time.

Internationally Japan is likely to continue its financial generosity within the UN track, as well as participate in more exclusive forums outside the UN, e.g. the Low-Carbon Growth Partnership (LCGP). It will keep insisting on a regime that will not put Japan in a disadvantageous position compared to its economic competitors, and will do so by promoting mitigation based on different sectors internationally and pushing for technological development.