Japan says reducing carbon emissions is an 'urgent issue'

2019-06-10 10:53
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Japan's government issued a new report on Friday describing the reduction of carbon emissions as "an urgent issue".

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet adopted a renewable energy white paper that restated its goal of reducing the amount of energy derived from fossil fuels - so-called defossilisation. It also reiterated its aim of increasing energy from renewables to 22-24% of the total by 2030. Japan's Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies estimates that the country generated 15.6% of its energy from renewables last year.

"In comparing Japan's [carbon dioxide] emissions to other major nations in terms of supply and demand, Japan has high energy efficiency but is lower in terms of the defossilisation of its energy sources. For this reason, promoting defossilisation and low carbon emission energy sources is an urgent issue," the report said.

The white paper pointed out that Japan has been making significant strides on energy conservation, in both the household and industrial sectors. But the report says Japan is over-reliant on thermal power generation - including from oil, gas and coal sources - in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear power disaster.

Analysts say the goals Japan has set for itself are more than achievable.

"Those energy targets are, if anything, less ambitious than they could be," says Andrew DeWit, a professor of Rikkyo University who specialises in renewable energy policies.

"One of the criticisms has been that they are only aiming for 22-24% on renewables and therefore they are not going to devote much in the way of policy supports. Well, that's just nonsense, because if you look at their budgets and integrated planning, they are focused on diffusing cost-effective renewables as fast as possible," DeWit told Al Jazeera.

Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono went further last year, describing his own government's goals as "lamentable" and called for tougher action.

The nuclear option

One of the most politically contentious aspects of the Abe government's energy plans remains its focus on promoting nuclear energy, which has been deeply unpopular with the public since the Fukushima disaster. Currently, nine nuclear reactors are in operation in Japan, all of them in the southwestern part of the country.

Japan's opposition parties are calling for the complete abandonment of nuclear power, either immediately or at least by 2030.

DeWit says "the big question" now is what mix of renewable energies will allow Japan to reach its targets?

"Certainly it's not going to be - as a lot of people think - all solar, or 80% solar," he says.

Since feed-in tariffs - set prices paid to renewable energy producers - were established by former Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government in 2012, there has been a boom in the construction of solar energy plants, but Japan has often found its energy grids unable to cope with the energy gluts created when weather conditions are ideal.

It is therefore likely that Japan's expansion in renewables will come from a wide range of sources, including geothermal and wind energy, in addition to the more prevalent nuclear and solar sources, analysts say.

The report also noted that Japan's per capita carbon emissions remain high for a developed nation. According to 2016 figures, annual per capita carbon emissions were 9.0 tons, well above the average of 7.6 tons in developed countries. The figure compared particularly unfavourably with advanced nations such as the United Kingdom (5.7 tons) and France (4.4 tons).

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Read more on:    japan  |  environment
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