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Climate Change

Japan to set bolder 2030 emissions target with eye on US alliance

Suga accelerates climate efforts in push toward carbon neutrality

A wind farm off the British coast: Japan will take another look at its energy supply mix, including offshore wind power and hydrogen.  (Photo courtesy of RWE Renewables)   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- In a step toward achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the Japanese government will set a new, more ambitious reduction goal for 2030 before the next Group of Seven summit in June.

Japan currently aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% from fiscal 2013 levels by 2030. But this likely will not be enough for the country to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, a goal announced by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in October soon after taking office.

Other major economies are also focusing not only on long-term efforts but on emission curbs over the next decade. Last year, the European Union announced it plans to reduce emissions by 55% between 1990 and 2030, and the U.K. by 68% over the same period. The U.S. and Canada are expected to announce 2030 goals in April as well.

In light of such developments, Suga hopes to brief U.S. President Joe Biden on his 2030 goals during his upcoming trip to the U.S. in early April. The Biden administration considers climate change a major policy focus, and will host a summit on the issue with many major economies on April 22.

Some within the Japanese government see coordination on the climate crisis as key to strengthening the country's alliance with the U.S. "I hope to affirm our cooperation on a variety of issues including climate change," Suga told reporters Thursday regarding his upcoming meeting with Biden.

Factories near Tokyo: Japan aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.   © Reuters

Decarbonization is expected to also be a major topic at the G-7 summit, which the U.K. will host in June.

Suga appointed Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi as minister in charge of climate change this month, and has set up a new team under the Cabinet Office to confront the problem. The prime minister will meet with relevant officials as early as this week to begin discussing a new 2030 goal and will launch an expert panel by the end of this month that includes business leaders and climate scientists.

The specific figure has yet to be ironed out. However, "Japan should consider a drastic goal like the EU," said Toshihiko Masui, head of the Center for Social and Environmental Systems Research at Japan's National Institute for Environmental Studies. According to Climate Action Tracker, Japan must cut emissions by at least 60% between 2013 and 2030 to comply with the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 C.

In addition to a new emissions goal, Japan will update its energy-mix target by the summer. The government currently aims for renewables to make up 22% to 24% of Japan's energy sources by fiscal 2030. But it will likely need to promote new renewable sources like hydrogen and ammonia, and to accelerate efforts away from coal and other fossil fuels, in order to meet a more ambitious emissions target.

Japan Inc. will need to bolster environmental efforts as well. About 70% of Japanese companies in RE100 -- a group of businesses committed to using 100% renewable energy -- plan to meet that target by 2050. Meanwhile, more than 80% of U.S. and European members have set a goal of 2030.

For example, Apple's in-house operations are already 100% powered by renewable sources and it seeks to achieve net-zero emissions across its supply chains by 2030. Microsoft has pledged to go "carbon negative" by 2030 through reforestation and carbon removal.

Some Japanese companies, like Nissan Motor and Honda Motor, plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, but it remains to be seen how far ahead of schedule they can achieve that goal.

Japan had originally planned to announce its new 2030 emissions goal at the United Nations Climate change Conference in the U.K. next November, after Tokyo finalizes its new energy-mix target. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in particular had been wary of announcing a specific figure to the international community too early before the government could present a clear rationale for a new goal.

Still, with several key international gatherings coming up before then, "we need to consider when we announce our 2030 emissions reduction goal," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato has said.

"We hope to have wide-reaching discussions on Japan's energy supply and decarbonization efforts outside of big metropolitan areas, such as by introducing hydrogen power and offshore wind farms wherever we can," he added.

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