Japan vows to become carbon-neutral by 2050

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that the country aims to cut greenhouse gases to zero by 2050 and become a carbon-neutral society, as he unveiled a significant shift in position on climate change.

Japan had previously said it would be carbon neutral as soon as possible in the second half of the century, but this is the first time that the country is setting an explicit date.

“Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth,” Mr. Suga said in his first policy address to parliament since taking office last month. “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 great growth.”

The Japanese target of no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 puts it in line with the European Union (EU), which set a carbon neutral target by the same date last year. In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping also vowed to make his country carbon neutral by 2060.

Need for more steps

Japan is the fifth largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world and although steps are being taken to promote renewable energy, it is also preparing to roll out new coal-fired power stations.

Japan’s industry minister Mr. Hiroshi Kajiyama later said that plans to achieve key parts of the goal would be drawn up by the end of the year. “Carbon neutrality itself is a growth strategy, and we must carry it out with all we have,” he added.

Mr. Suga said that new solar cells and carbon recycling will be crucial to achieving its goals and Japan will step up research and development in these fields, along with digitalizing the society, a policy he has driven since taking over from his predecessor.

Policy makers and investors welcomed the announcement.

“Japan joining the EU in targeting carbon neutrality by 2050 is very welcome, and so is PM Mr. Suga’s focus on green technologies and especially solar, as a growth driver,” said experts. However, they also cautioned that Japan will have to begin the decommissioning of coal power and avoid the development and financing of new coal power abroad.

Mr. Suga said a secure bilateral relationship was important in a nod to Japan’s deep economic links with giant neighbor China, but also said Japan would maintain contact with “all like-minded nations for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”