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Interview

Decarbonization will make US-Japan alliance stronger, Koizumi says

Japanese environment minister says 2021 will bring big move on carbon pricing

Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi looks first to achieve decarbonization in certain regions of Japan, then expand those efforts nationwide. (Photo by Kento Awashima)

TOKYO -- Japan will work more closely with the U.S. on cutting carbon dioxide emissions under President-elect Joe Biden's administration, Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi says, describing it as a new bond between the allies.

"We would like to expand this new cooperative area of decarbonization in the Japan-U.S. alliance," Koizumi told Nikkei during a recent interview, saying a new government-wide policy for cooperation would be proposed as early as January.

Japan aims to become carbon neutral by 2050, promising to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by that year. Biden made the same pledge during his election campaign.

Koizumi expects the global trend toward reducing carbon emissions will continue even if the effects of the coronavirus pandemic drag on. The next 10 years will be crucial in the push for carbon neutrality, he said.

Japan can attract investment by creating a "domino effect" of decarbonization nationwide, Koizumi said. Specific measures will include promoting a shift from gasoline-fueled cars to electric vehicles and reinforcing home insulation, he added.

Edited excerpts from interview follow.

Q: Why has government set a decarbonization target during the COVID-19 crisis?

A: The international community hasn't stopped decarbonization efforts; in fact, countries are accelerating their investments and policies in this area. A symbolic development is the shift from gasoline-powered cars to electric vehicles. Japanese companies may well lose opportunities to profit if they miss the bus.

Decarbonization has become the biggest growth industry. Renewable energy sources and EVs still have problems to work out, but it is far harder to envision growth without them. For the sake of the next generation, moves toward decarbonization must not be allowed to falter for reasons of the coronavirus.

Q: What road map have you drawn toward the goal?

A: It is no exaggeration to say that everything will be determined by what we accomplish in the 10 years until 2030. Within five years, we will first establish regions that will be in the vanguard of achieving decarbonization to create a domino effect in Japan.

Zero-carbon cities [proposed by local governments and their leaders] are spreading. We will create primary areas [for decarbonization], based not only on programs by such local governments but also areas within them and remote islands. Investment will then come forward from both within and without.

People would be wrong to confuse this as meaning we should simply produce the innovations by 2050. Rather than rely on innovations that who knows when they will emerge, we will focus on efforts that can be achieved by strengthening today's technologies and policies.

Q: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has called for promoting carbon pricing. Do you intend to introduce a cap-and-trade system and a full-scale carbon tax?

A: In cooperation with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, we will help draw up a carbon pricing system that contributes to growth. This will be a major development next year. Carbon pricing has been something that people have been reluctant to have an open debate on. Now we will move forward at the prime minster's direction.

Q: How can Japan promote electric vehicles?

A: We will double purchase subsidies to 800,000 yen ($7,700) per vehicle from 400,000 yen. We do not see EVs merely as cars but as mobile batteries to establish a distributed autonomous energy system.

We will also promote the decarbonization of homes. We will subsidize the renovations of homes to improve their thermal insulation. This will reduce CO2 emissions and help family budgets. It can even help reduce deaths from heat shock when people move from hot baths into cold rooms.

Q: What expectations do you have for the Biden administration?

A: President-elect Biden has named John Kerry as his special envoy for climate change. I would like to start with sharing that Japan's current climate change policy is totally different from what it was when Kerry served as secretary of state in the Obama administration. We would like to expand this new cooperative area of decarbonization in the Japan-U.S. alliance.

The Biden administration's new team is just getting started. In the Suga government, we are discussing how we can work together with the U.S. side. We will work out a policy of government-wide cooperation between Japan and the U.S. as early as the start of the new year.

Q: METI is in charge of Japan's energy policy. How will the Environment Ministry work with METI to promote the use of renewable energy sources?

A: The Environment Ministry has made its own proposal of doubling the ratio of renewable energy in domestic power generation [to around 40%] by 2030.

The government will review its basic energy plan in fiscal 2021. As you can see from the proposals by the Japan Association of Corporate Executives and other groups, the corporate sector is in fact calling for an increase in the use of renewable energy. We will contribute to discussions on how to raise the ratio.

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