TOKYO -- Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that Japan will reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 as he opened the parliament's 203rd extraordinary session on Monday with his first speech to both houses since becoming leader.
The Suga cabinet took office on Sept. 16. The last time a new prime minister gave an inaugural speech to the Diet was in January 2013, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-elected to the position.
One of the main elements of Suga's strategy for economic growth is a virtuous cycle between the economy and the environment. He said that he would focus on creating a "green society" and that Japan would "aim to be a carbon-neutral, decarbonized society" by 2050.
Innovations like next-generation solar cells and carbon recycling will be key to the initiative, he said, adding that he wants to speed up the practical adoption of these technologies.
In 2019 the European Union adopted the same goal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. China, the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, is aiming to have "virtually zero" emissions before 2060. The Japanese government set its own target after coming under international criticism for taking only halfhearted measures.
Measures to combat global warming "are not a constraint on economic growth," Suga said. "We need to change our thinking and realize that structural changes in industry and society will lead to significant growth." He also said that Japan will "fundamentally change its policy on coal-fired power generation."
At the start of his speech, Suga also committed to fighting the new coronavirus pandemic, which has been one of his top priorities, and said the government will "definitely prevent an explosive outbreak of infections and protect the lives and health of the people of Japan." With the winter flu season approaching, he said the government would "ensure an average daily PCR testing capacity of 200,000 tests" at regional medical facilities. It will secure a sufficient quantity of vaccines for everyone in Japan by the first half of 2021.
In a bid to increase economic activity and allow a resumption in international business travel, testing capacity for those entering the country will be increased to 20,000 per day "by the end of next month," he said. He added that Japan is determined to hold the Olympic Games next summer "as proof that humanity has defeated the virus."
Suga also laid out specific goals for policies that he had advocated in the leadership election within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, such as the creation of a "digital agency," regulatory reform and insurance coverage for fertility treatments. He reiterated his call for a "cabinet that works for the people" and said he wants the government to "immediately get to work on things we can accomplish that will produce results," such as his long-held goal of reducing mobile phone fees.