Japan sticks to 2030 climate goals, accused of a ‘disappointing’ lack of ambition

Japan has reaffirmed its 2015 goal to cuts emissions by 26% by 2030 despite UN plea for far tougher action this year to tackle the climate crisis

Japan has reaffirmed its 2030 climate plan without setting tougher emission reduction targets, instead promising more action in the future. (Photo: Luca Sartoni/Flickr)

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Japan reaffirmed an existing plan for combating global warming until 2030 on Monday, drawing criticism from architects of the Paris climate agreement for failing to set tougher targets. 

Japan, the first G7 industrialised nation to submit an updated climate action plan known as a “Nationally Determined Contribution” this year, said it would “continue to aim at resolutely achieving” its goal set in 2015 of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2030 from 2013 levels.

Its submission to the UN also said it “will pursue further efforts both in the medium and long-term to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond this level”. It comes at a time when governments around the world are overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Laurence Tubiana, who was an architect of the 2015 Paris Agreement as France’s climate ambassador, welcomed Japan’s submission but said it was “disappointing to see the government has not increased its ambition in response to the climate crisis”.

Britain is due to host a critical climate summit in Glasgow in November – providing the coronavirus crisis is over by then – to rally far more global action at the first five-year milestone of the Paris Agreement. Countries are under pressure to submit tougher climate plans to limit climate change that the UN calls an existential threat to humanity.

A UK government spokesperson told Climate Home News it had taken note of Japan’s “technical NDC submission” but expected Tokyo to come up with a more ambitious plan ahead of the summit.

“We are clear on the need for increased ambition from all countries, particularly from G7 partners. We hope to see a further submission that includes an increase in Japan’s headline target ahead of Cop26.”

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Tubiana said that other nations such as European Union members, China, the UK and South Korea were moving towards a low-carbon economy and could leave Japan behind in “the high-tech race of this century”.

“At one of the most challenging times of recent memory, we need bolder, mutually reinforcing plans that protect our societies from the global risks we all face,” Tubiana, who is now CEO of the European Climate Foundation, said in a statement.

2019 was the second warmest year on record, behind 2016, with severe wildfires, bleachings of coral reefs and an accelerating thaw of ice in Greenland and Antarctica that is pushing up world sea levels. Last year, UN Secretary General António Guterres urged the world to cut emissions by 45% by 2030, and for developed nations to lead the way.

Christiana Figueres, who was head of the UN Climate Change secretariat at the time of the Paris Agreement, praised Japanese companies including business conglomerate Marubeni for moving away from fossil fuels. But she said the government’s NDC fell short.

“The new NDC limits the scope for Japan to meet the goals required by science, desired by humanity and committed to by its government in Paris. I hope this announcement does not hinder further leadership from the private sector in Japan,” she said in a statement.

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“When the world is learning through the Covid-19 pandemic that we need to work together to tackle global threats like climate change, it’s disappointing to see Japan not learning this lesson,” Mohamed Adow, director of the Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa, said in a statement.

Japan says its industries such as steel, cars or cement have historically been more efficient than major rivals, partly because of its dependence on energy imports. Tokyo says that limits its ability to make deep cuts compared to other, less efficient, economies.

It originally submitted its NDC climate action plan in July 2015. Since then, the document said that Japan had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions for four consecutive years, from 2014-2017.

The submission also added that revisions to Japan’s NDC “will be carried out consistently with the revision of the energy mix” rather than having to wait for the next five-year milestone of the Paris accord, when countries will be expected to ratchet-up their plans further.

According to figures included in the submission, coal makes up 26% of Japan’s energy mix on which its NDC is based. Renewable energy makes up 22-24%, nuclear power up to 22% and liquefied natural gas about 27%.

A report published by Oil Change International earlier this year, also found that Japan’s export credit agency provided more support to oil, gas and coal projects abroad than any other government – an estimated $7.8 billion annually.

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In 2019, Japan also submitted a long-term strategy to cut emissions by mid-century to the UN.

Monday’s document said that long-term plan aimed to achieve “a ‘decarbonised society’ as close as possible to 2050 with disruptive innovations” such as artificial photosynthesis – a process used by plants to make food while absorbing carbon dioxide – and hydrogen.

Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions totalled the equivalent of 1.23 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2017, up 2.04% from the UN base year of 1990. They have declined from 1.34 billion in 2013.

Only four nations have submitted more ambitious climate plans to the UN so far – the Marshall Islands, Suriname, Norway and Moldova.

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