Japan says reducing carbon emissions is an 'urgent issue'

A new report restates the government's goal to increase the proportion of energy it derives from renewable sources.

    Japan wants to increase the proportion of energy it derives from renewable sources to 22-24 percent by 2030 from around 15 percent currently [File: Kham/Reuters]
    Japan wants to increase the proportion of energy it derives from renewable sources to 22-24 percent by 2030 from around 15 percent currently [File: Kham/Reuters]

    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 defossilization. It also reiterated its aim of increasing energy from renewables to 22-24 percent of the total by 2030. Japan's Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies estimates that the country generated 15.6 percent 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 defossilization of its energy sources. For this reason, promoting defossilization 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 percent 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.

    An aerial view shows Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant in Naraha town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan
    Critics of Japan's energy policy say the country has become over-reliant on fossil fuels since the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant disaster in 2011 [February 26, 2012: Kyodo/Reuters]

    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 percent 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 tonnes, well above the average of 7.6 tonnes in developed countries. The figure compared particularly unfavourably with advanced nations such as the United Kingdom (5.7 tonnes) and France (4.4 tonnes).

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News