Japan to legislate for 2050 net-zero target

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has vowed to enshrine a 2050 net-zero target in national law, major news outlets across the globe are reporting.

Japan to legislate for 2050 net-zero target

Despite playing host to a growing renewable energy sector

Suga made his first policy address to Parliament since taking office today (26 October). He had been widely expected to outline bolder plans for the nation’s climate strategy, in light of the IPCC’s landmark report and subsequent policy changes in nations including the UK and New Zealand.

“Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth,” Suga said.

“We need to change our thinking to the view that taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about growth.”

He explained that his Government’s overarching aim will be to deliver a “decarbonised” society by mid-century, enshrining the goal in law in the coming months and developing sector-specific frameworks later. The commitment is more ambitious than Japan’s previous commitment to reduce net emissions by 80% by 2050, against a 1990 baseline, before reaching net-zero “as soon as possible” in the second half of the century.

Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, behind only China and the US, so the commitment will have major repercussions globally. But it is heavily reliant on fossil fuels and will need to drastically change energy investment to meet the new goal. Japan’s current energy plan stipulates that some 56% of power should come from fossil fuels in 2040. The plan was instated in 2018 and fiercely criticised by environmental campaigners at COP24 and COP25.

Suga said Japan will promote a mix of renewables – predominantly solar – and nuclear power to meet its new target. It will also develop new policies around energy storage and carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS).

Global change

The announcement from Suga comes just weeks after China pledged to carbon neutrality by 2060. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aim is for the country to reach peak emissions before 2030.

China is the world’s largest emitter, so the commitment is significant and has served to build momentum in the runup to COP26. It is hoped that the US will follow suit if Democratic Candidate Joe Biden is chosen at next month’s election, given that President Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement and has been vocally pro-oil and anti-climate science in his campaign.

Here in Europe, EU Ministers stuck a deal on Friday (23 October) to make the bloc’s net-zero emissions target, deadlined at 2050, legally binding. European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen first outlined a net-zero vision last year as part of a broader Green New Deal and negotiations on the specifics have been ongoing.

Ministers did decide, however, to postpone the decision around the bloc’s interim target to December. The target will be set for 2030 and environmentalists have succeeded in securing backing for a 55% reduction in net emissions, up from an initial proposal of 50%. But the Commission is facing mounting pressure from businesses, its own policymakers and the public to legislate for a 60% cut.

Sarah George

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