Japan’s climate plan: big in ambition but small in scope

Japan’s plan to become carbon neutral by 2050 is starting to take shape as the government targets the country’s biggest company: the auto industry.

Decarbonization requires fundamental changes in almost every industry, and banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by the mid-2030s is the central government’s first major step towards achieving this goal.

But the scope, impact and intent of the climate plan are questionable, experts say, because it will not ban hybrid vehicles or promote or subsidize green electricity production.

The absence of several key elements in the government’s commitment gives rise to a “loose expectations” plan that should not spark change in the auto industry, said Teruyuki Ohno, director of the Renewable Energy Institute.

As part of the plan, the government will phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered commercial and passenger vehicles – and possibly motorcycles, Commerce Ministry officials say – by the first half of the 2030s.

Akio Toyoda | KYODO

The move represents a significant change in the country’s stance, as the government previously said in 2010 that in the mid-1930s it would reduce the market share of gasoline-powered automobiles to between 30 and 50 percent, with environmentally friendly vehicles. environment representing the rest.

The omission of hybrid vehicles from the ban, however, has drawn criticism that the government has appeased automakers.

European countries like the UK and Denmark, among others, are seeking to ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars from 2030 and hybrid cars from 2035.

Decades ago, Ohno explained, Japanese automakers began building their status largely by following industry regulations – including restrictions on toxic waste and air pollution – more closely than corporations. other parts of the world.

“But that was decades ago, and these companies have fallen behind in climate regulation and emission reductions,” he said. “It’s a chance for them to gain the upper hand. At least it was. “

But automakers are unhappy at being singled out for their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota Motor Corp. and president of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, particularly doubted that switching to electric cars would be the solution.

In a meeting with reporters in mid-December, days after the release of reports on the government’s plan to ban new sales of gasoline-powered cars, Toyoda released an estimate showing that if, for example, around 62 million vehicles were replaced by electric vehicles. motor cars, the nation is expected to increase its electricity production by 10 to 15%.

That equates to 10 nuclear reactors or 20 thermal power plants, Toyoda said, as quoted by Response, an online media outlet.

About 4 million passenger cars are sold in Japan each year.

Toyoda urged the government to create a comprehensive strategy to increase electricity production, saying automakers alone cannot make the change.

If the government does not develop such a strategy, “the business model of the auto industry – creating jobs and paying taxes by making cars – will collapse,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Commerce, in 2018, electricity production accounted for 37% of the country’s carbon emissions, while 25% came from manufacturing, 17% from transport and 10% from households and businesses.

The Ministry of Commerce’s Economic Growth Plan released in late December provided a roadmap for the country’s plan to move its economy away from fossil fuels and foster the growth of green energy industries to deliver on Suga’s commitment. for Japan to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Yet questions remain about the country’s will to reform the world’s third-largest economy, reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and curb global warming.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has said the capital will ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2030. |  BLOOMBERG
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has said the capital will ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2030. | BLOOMBERG

Climate advocates say Japan, the world’s fifth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, and Tokyo – the country’s largest polluter and consumer of fossil fuels – have a responsibility to lead the charge.

Change in the capital, they say, could inspire change nationwide.

In December, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike announced a plan almost identical to that of the central government, except that the capital aims to ban new sales of gasoline cars earlier, by 2030.

“Tokyo has led and will continue to lead the country’s efforts to reduce harmful emissions,” Koike said in an interview on Dec. 23. “By setting ambitious goals, the capital can move the country forward.”

Environmental nonprofits say Suga’s climate plan is concerned with economic growth, relies on carbon recycling – a technology they say is still entirely experimental – and fails to provide the necessary push. to inspire the private sector to create jobs by investing in the expansion of green energy industries.

The Climate Action Network said in a statement on Dec. 25 that Suga’s commitment deserves praise for recognizing decarbonization as an opportunity for economic growth, recognizing the need for a new business model in several industries and striving for achieve net carbon emissions by 2050.

“However,” the statement continued. “The plan fails to address these issues in the context of the climate crisis, nor does it present a vision of what Japanese society might look like in 2050.”

If Suga is to reach the 2050 target, changes in business models in key sectors are inevitable. And the inertia of industry giants who don’t want to make such a drastic change in such a short time is and will continue to be one of the biggest obstacles.

But experts say the world started turning to renewables years ago, and as long as Japan’s private sector keeps its feet firmly rooted in the fossil fuel industry, the country’s economy will fall behind. .

“The auto industry will become carbon neutral,” Ohno said. ” It’s inevitable. The question is how soon and how effectively the Japanese private sector will embrace the coming change.

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