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Japan scheduled to commit to net zero by 2050

Global efforts to meet net zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century will receive a major boost next week with Japan set to unveil their revised climate targets. According to the Nikkei news agency, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will announce in his first general policy address to the Japanese parliament on Monday 26th October that the country will reduce overall carbon emissions to zero and realise “a carbon-free society” in 2050.

Japan has been a notable absentee from any such pledges until now with reluctance from the country’s government to improve on a prior commitment to reduce emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050. Even their pledge to be virtually net zero as early as possible in the second half of the century was criticised for its vagueness.

This pledge came in March when Japan submitted an updated climate action plan to the UN ahead of the COP26 (UN Convention on Climate Change) talks which were scheduled for November 2020 but rearranged for November 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This plan – Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) – stated Japan would “continue to aim at resolutely achieving” their 2015 goal of a reduction of 26% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The March statement was seized upon by campaigners, other governments and independent analysts as being “highly insufficient”. Japan, however, had garnered some wiggle room by stating that revisions to their NDC would be “carried out consistently with the revision of the energy mix”. The scheduled announcement from Prime Minister Suga indicates that they have used this caveat astutely.

The EU and UK have both committed to net zero by 2050 and, recently, China surprised the world by pledging to a 2060 target. In following suit, Japan will now implement a major revision of their current energy plan. This plan set goals for 2030 which would see nuclear power generation providing about 20% of its electricity needs, renewable energy around 24% with fossil fuels contributing the remaining 56%.

Japan is currently the world’s fifth largest carbon emitter and has struggled to recover from the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in 2011. The subsequent closure of the country’s nuclear plants led to an increase in coal-fired power stations. In July, it was announced that Japan would begin closing up to 100 old coal plants – something that can now be seen as a significant step towards the net zero pledge.

If the US presidential election on November 3rd results in Joe Biden becoming the occupant of the White House, we can also expect to see the US begin to come into line with the aims of the Paris Agreement which President Trump has consistently opposed


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