Japan’s Response to the Issue of Climate Change: An Innovative Transition Towards a Zero-Carbon and Resilient Society

Prof. Kazuo Matsushita
Professor Emeritus at Kyoto University

Publications Japan’s Response to the Issue of Climate Change: An Innovative Transition Towards a Zero-Carbon and Resilient Society

This analysis is part of the Japan Looking Ahead initiative, which examines Japan’s ability to both overcome its internal challenges as well as offer innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing global challenges.


Introduction: A global vision under the age of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs

The Paris Agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and entered into force in November 2016, sets ambitious long-term goals for controlling global climate change and issues a clear message on the move away from fossil fuels. The agreement provides a framework that encourages leadership actions in developed countries and encompasses the participation of all developing countries. It aims to contain the average rise in global temperature to well below 2 ℃ and even 1.5 ℃ compared to before the Industrial Revolution.

For this reason, by the middle of this century, governments have to set a goal of “net zero emissions” that offsets global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions with anthropogenic absorption. This means virtually eliminating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities and requires a radical economic and social shift to a non-fossil fuel civilization. In short, the Paris Agreement means the beginning of the end of humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels.

In comparison, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 include 17 goals, 169 targets, and 230 indicators that call for an integrated global response to three dimensions: economic development, social inclusion, and environmental protection. The central concept of the SDGs is “leave no one behind”, calling for an end to poverty, combating inequality, and addressing environmental issues including climate change.

The new global vision set out by the SDGs and the Paris Agreement aims for a society in which all people can improve their well-being sustainably and in a socially fair and ecologically safe sphere, securing basic human rights and limiting the use of natural resources within a supportable range.

Since climate change is accelerating more rapidly than previously thought, we must swiftly take more robust action. At the same time, investment in sustainable energy sources, clean energy technologies, and infrastructure brings opportunities for innovation, sustainable and inclusive growth, competitiveness, and job creation. Accelerating the virtuous cycle of environmental protection and economic growth is urgent. As an advanced international economy, Japan has to take the lead in this endeavor.

1. A fundamental shift to a decarbonized society has already begun

The effects of climate change, as suggested in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5℃[1], are likely to have begun to manifest in Japan as heavy rains and typhoons. Insurance payments for natural disasters in 2018 reached a record high of 1.6 trillion yen[2]. It should not be overlooked that the effects of climate change, such as typhoon damage in 2019, are growing. To minimize the impact of climate change and build a safer and more secure society, we have to achieve net-zero emission of GHGs as soon as possible and take robust measures towards Japan becoming a decarbonized society immediately.

At the present time, fundamental changes, not only in regard to climate change but also various social and technological developments are occurring simultaneously. These include the advancement of AI and information and communications technology (ICT), improved computer processing speeds, and advances in recycling that help reduce waste disposal problems and resource constraints. These advances will help society respond to the problem of rising temperatures and other global issues.

Under the Paris Agreement, a fundamental shift to a decarbonized society has already begun. Many countries in the world are pursuing this thorough energy conservation and renewable energy expansion to realize economic development that takes advantage of climate change measures. Leading companies are taking the initiative in seeing climate change as both a business risk and a business opportunity.

At the UN Climate Action Summit held in September 2019[3], based on the IPCC Special Report of 1.5℃, net-zero emissions of GHGs by 2050 has become one benchmark for measuring ambition to address climate change of each country. Fifty-nine countries announced that they would raise their Nationally Determined Contributions[4] (NDCs) by the end of 2020, and 11 have already started domestic processes. Additionally, it was reported that 66 countries and territories, 10 states, 102 cities, 87 businesses, and 12 investment institutions will achieve or accelerate net-zero emissions by 2050. Overall, countries, regions, and cities that account for more than 15% of global emissions have stated net-zero emissions by 2050.

On January 14, 2020, 108 countries declared their intent to renew and strengthen their NDCs in 2020 and resubmit them to the UN based on the Paris Agreement, which includes their greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and measures against global warming[5]. It is highly likely that stronger momentum will be established for decarbonization in the future along with the movements of companies and investors.

Some European and Asian countries have targets such as 100% renewable energy and phasing out coal-fired power plants, which would result in creating new jobs and new forms of regional and national economic development. In many countries of the world, renewable energy has now become the cheapest power generation technology.

Europe saw a great deal of momentum in 2019. Starting on June 27, 2019, the UK Government passed the 2008 Amendment to the Climate Change Act, which stipulated a policy target of net-zero by 2050. Then in France on November 8, 2019, a bill was passed that required achieving carbon neutrality by 2050[6]. The next month, on December 12, 2019, the European Council approved the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. And lastly, that same month, the European Green Deal[7] ((COM2019) 640) was formulated and published. Prior to that, in July 2017, France and the United Kingdom announced the ban on the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040. In February 2020, the UK moved this target year forward to 2035. Since 2019, China has also introduced regulations to switch to new energy vehicles.

The explosive expansion of renewable energy and falling prices continue. From the end of 2005 to the end of 2017, the amount of wind power installed in the world has increased about nine times (59 GW to 539 GW), and the amount of solar power installed has increased about 79 times (5.1 GW to 402 GW)[8] .

2. How has Japan been addressing climate change issues?

The transition to a decarbonized society is accelerating in countries around the world, as well as the business sector and civil society. How about Japan?

Japan has shown her presence in international climate change negotiations since 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the 3rd Conference of the Parties of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3) in Kyoto.  Being recognized as a country with advanced energy-efficient and environmentally sound technologies, Japan has been contributing to international cooperation in the field of climate change in various ways as well.

However, the performance of Japan up to 2013 was not satisfactory (see the attached Diagram1. on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions of Japan), in particular, after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. Since then, dependence on coal-fired power has increased as well as GHG emissions which have increased substantially.

(Diagram1. Trends of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Japan)

After the peak emissions of CO2 in FY2013, there was a steady decrease in emissions. According to the Ministry of the Environment, since the peak in FY2013, domestic CO2 emissions continue to decrease. In FY2018, they dropped by more than 10% from the peak, the lowest since FY1990. The factors of the emissions reductions were the progress of energy-saving practices and the increase of renewable energy. Although most of the nuclear power plants did not operate, there was no power shortage. The total annual power generation in Japan from FY2014 to FY2018 is almost 10% lower than in FY2010. According to the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, solar power has increased to nearly 20 times that of 2010. Renewable energy accounted for 16.9%, including hydropower. This is due to the effect of the feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme on renewable energy introduced in July 2012. Total solar output exceeded 50 million kilowatts at the end of September 2019, exceeding the 54 nuclear power plants before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.

In May 2016, based on the Act on Promotion of Global Warming Countermeasures, the Cabinet approved Japan’s Plan for Global Warming Countermeasures and the Government Action Plan. The Plan for Global Warming Countermeasures is Japan’s comprehensive plan for dealing with global warming. Based on the Paris Agreement and Japan’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution submitted to the United Nations in July 2015, it establishes a medium-term goal (to be achieved by FY2030) of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% compared to the FY2013 level, and a long-term goal of reducing them by 80% by 2050. It also outlines measures to be taken by business operators, citizens, and other entities, as well as measures to be taken by national and local governments to enable the achievement of the Plan’s goals.

The Government of Japan decided by the Cabinet on June 11, 2019, shortly before the G20 Summit in Osaka, to put into place the “Long-term Growth Strategy based on the Paris Agreement”[9] (hereinafter, “Long-Term Strategy”).

­The Long-Term Strategy sets forth a vision of achieving a “decarbonized society” as early as possible in the second half of this century. To enable it, Japan needs to realize a “virtuous cycle of environment and growth” through business-led disruptive innovation, which is included as a basic concept. Japan’s Long-Term Strategy, like the one in EU, is positioned as an investment strategy, and states that “we will lead international discussions including the creation of frameworks and standards in the field of climate change in the future.”

In September 2019, Japan joined the Carbon Neutrality Coalition, a voluntary coalition aimed at a decarbonized society[10]. Then in January 2020, based on the Long-Term Strategy, the Integrated Innovation Strategy Promotion Council of the Government of Japan decided on the “Innovative Environmental Innovation Strategy”[11].

However, despite its positive intentions, the Long-Term Strategy has the following issues and challenges.

First, ambitions remain low. Although the Long-Term Strategy shows the direction to realize a “carbon-free society” as soon as possible in the latter half of this century, it does not describe a concrete path to realization. The target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 will remain unchanged, with the target for 2030 remaining at a 26% reduction compared to 2013. This is the lowest level in any major country and is far from the level required to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Second, the continuation of a coal addiction. Japan’s policy to continue the new construction of coal-fired power plants domestically and to support them financially abroad is criticized by the international community. For example, UN Secretary-General António Guterres remarked at the opening ceremony of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) on the 2nd of December 2019 in Madrid, “In several regions of the world, coal power plants continue to be planned and built-in large numbers. Either we stop this addiction to coal or all our efforts to tackle climate change will be doomed”[12]. However, Japan’s current Fifth Strategic Energy Plan[13], stipulates that power sources in 2030 will be “26% coal-fired power, 22-24% renewable energy, and 20-22% nuclear power”, but the target for the year 2050 is not clear.

(Diagram 2: Share of Renewable Energy in electricity generation in Japan, in 2030 and 2050)

According to the Long-Term Strategy of Japan, it was stated that renewable energy such as solar and wind power would be the main power source. Concerning coal-fired power plants, which emit large amounts of CO2, it was stated “to reduce dependence as much as possible”. However, a policy to not only continue use but also complete new construction is maintained, which would be inconsistent with the target set by the Paris Agreement.

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011, a series of new construction plans for coal-fired power plants with a combined capacity of around 21,000 MW were announced to compensate for the capacity loss due to nuclear facilities being shut down. Of this amount, 2,460 MW have been built and are currently operating. However, plans for 7,030 MW have been canceled or changed to liquefied natural gas (LNG) or biomass in the wake of mounting climate change-driven criticism at home and abroad and deteriorating profitability from market changes. Still, there are 20 new projects with over 11,000 MW under construction or planned for construction[14].

Although many of these projects assume a high operating capacity factor of 80 – 90%, the Organization for Cross-Regional Coordination of Transmission Operations (OCCTO) estimates that the national average rate will be less than 70%, which implies lower profitability and feasibility of coal-fired power generation plants[15].

Future investment in coal power will carry significant business risks. Due to decreasing electricity demand, falling renewable energy costs, declining capacity factors, falling wholesale electricity prices, rising coal prices, and stronger regulations to address climate change, new coal power projects face a significant risk that they will become stranded assets[16].

It is said that Japanese coal-fired power generation has advanced technology and has a relatively low environmental impact, but even state-of-the-art coal-fired power generation plants emit about twice the amount of CO2 equivalent to natural gas power plants[17] (see Diagram 3). With many countries embarking on a move away from coal-fired power, Japan is only moving backward.

(Diagram 3: CO2 emissions per output of coal-fired power plants by type of fuel)
Source: Materials for the “Study Group for Carbon Pricing,” MOE, June 2, 2017)






Third, the deferment of what can be done immediately with existing technologies. While emphasizing future innovations in technologies that have not yet been realized (discontinuous innovations) as a means of achieving decarbonization, there has been a continued deferment of what can be done immediately with existing technologies such as solar and wind. In order to introduce large amounts of renewable energy, it is necessary to set ambitious targets, reduce costs, make it a stable long-term power source, eliminate institutional barriers, and promote appropriate coordination.

Fourth, there is no progress on carbon pricing. “Carbon pricing” (charging of carbon), which promotes reduction by putting a price on CO2 emissions, is considered to be the most effective countermeasure against global warming. However, the carbon tax introduced in Japan has a tax rate of 289 yen per ton of CO2 emissions, significantly lower than that of other countries that have introduced carbon taxes and has not been effective in reducing CO2 emissions (See Diagram 4). Therefore, Japan should introduce full-scale carbon pricing.

(Diagram 4)


A report by the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices, co-chaired by Sir Nicholas Stern of the United Kingdom and Professor Joseph Stiglitz of the United States of America, noted in their report[18] ​​that “explicit carbon price consistent with the Paris Agreement is at least $40 – $80 / tCO2 by 2020 and $50 – $100 / tCO2 by 2030.” Scandinavian and other countries succeeded in attaining new economic development through setting high carbon tax rates and encouraging the spread of products that emit less CO2 and the development of energy-saving technologies.

Carbon pricing is expected to promote structural changes in the Japanese economy from the existing carbon intensive economic system to low-carbon or a carbon-neutral one in an efficient manner. To fully utilize the price signal effect, carbon prices must be sufficiently high with a clear announcement of a pricing schedule with gradual escalation of carbon prices. For example, if sufficiently high carbon prices are introduced, construction of new coal-fired power plants would lose their economic competitiveness.

3. Expectations for the activities of non-state actors

Although there is a lack of strong leadership on the part of the government, expectations are high from the international community for the activities of non-state actors including the business sector and local governments. There are some good examples in Japan.

One is the collective of local governments that have made pledges. In Japan, 89 local governments (17 prefectures, 39 cities, 24 towns, and 8 villages), including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Yokohama City, have declared “net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050″. The total population included from the combined local governments was about 63 million and GDP was about 2.8 trillion USD, accounting for nearly half of Japan’s total population (as of February 3, 2020). The movement to build a net-zero society in this way is also increasing in Japan and drawing concrete pathways to attain the targets will contribute to the progress of discussions in various activities such as policies, initiatives, and research related to the net-zero society[19].

Another example of the good taking place in Japan is the Japan Climate Initiative (JCI)[20], which is a network of various non-state actors such as private companies, local governments, and NGOs. JCI was established on July 6, 2018 as a platform for realizing the Paris Agreement, and 105 organizations initially participated and started its activities. JCI pledges to stand at the forefront of global challenges to realize a decarbonized society and collaborates with other domestic multi-stakeholder coalitions to accelerate the transition towards decarbonized and climate-resilient societies around the world. JCI’s membership soared to 457 organizations, including 323 companies, 32 cities/Municipalities, and 102 others, as of February 7, 2020.

JCI has submitted to the Japanese government a statement entitled “Calling on the Japanese government to enhance its NDC (Nationally Determined Contributions).”[21] The message states, “We pledge to accelerate our efforts on decarbonization with greater resolution than ever and call on the Japanese government to enhance its NDC including the revision of its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target.”[22] 221 JCI signatories (142 companies, 21 municipalities, 58 organizations) have signed on the message as of January 31, 2020.

Lastly, some Japanese companies are evaluated highly for their climate change measures. According to the Corporate Climate Change Countermeasures Survey Report by CDP[23], 38 Japanese Companies are rated the highest and rank on the A-List. Japan has the largest number of A-List companies in the world. There are also 42 Japanese companies in the second stage of an A-rank. It is highly regarded that they are generally addressing climate change as a management risk.

There are about 60 Japanese companies certified by the Science Based Targets (SBT)[24], out of 300 companies worldwide, which is the largest by one country. SBT encourages companies to set reduction targets consistent with scientific knowledge to keep global average temperature rise below 2 degrees. It showcases companies that set science-based targets through case studies, events, and media to highlight the increased innovation, reduced regulatory uncertainty, strengthened investor confidence, and improved profitability and competitiveness generated by a science-based target setting. Representative Japanese companies participating in SBT include Daikin, Komatsu Ltd., Konica Minolta, Sony, KAO, Shimazu and others. Joining the SBT is expected to promote innovation, reduce regulatory uncertainty, increase the trust and confidence of investors, and improve profitability and competitiveness.

As an example of an SBT certified company, Daikin Industries, the world’s number one supplier of air conditioning equipment, set a target of 70% reduction of GHG emissions by 2020 compared to 2005. Intense heat is expected due to climate change and air conditioners will continue to be necessary to create a comfortable environment. However, air conditioners use a lot of electricity which accelerates global warming. By producing energy-efficient products, Daikin can contribute to a comfortable living environment and the prevention of global warming. Through setting ambitious targets to reduce GHG emissions and developing energy-efficient products and systems, Daikin received the energy conservation award of 2019 sponsored by the Energy Conservation Center of Japan. The products and systems developed are “continuous energy-saving practices that maintain comfort in multi-store amusement facilities,” “save energy at new factories by adopting new air conditioning systems and utilizing big data ” and “residential Room Air Conditioner”.

Another player in the corporate world is RE100, which is a global corporate leadership initiative bringing together influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity. More than 30 Japanese companies out of 225 companies worldwide are in RE100[25]. Japanese companies included are, Ricoh, Sekisui House, Aeon, Jonan Shinkin Bank, Sony, etc. (as of January 2020).

4. A vision for a zero-carbon society in Japan

Japan’s Long-Term Strategy emphasizes discontinuous innovation. But this should not result in postponing what can be done with existing technologies. Innovations to decarbonize society include not only technological advances but also economic and social systems, as well as lifestyle innovations. These will be the keys to achieving long-term emissions reduction while solving multiple social and economic challenges in Japan, such as Japan’s low birthrate and extended longevity, decreasing population, and deteriorating rural areas.

Let us consider an innovative transition towards zero-carbon and a resilient society in Japan by looking at the Japanese government’s “Innovative Environmental Innovation Strategy”[26]. This is based on the Long-Term Strategy and the Integrated Innovation Strategy 2019[27] to create innovations in the energy and environmental fields where Japan has strengths and realize the achievable costs that can be implemented in society, to diffuse them to the world.

Specifically, it consists of the following elements.

(1) The Innovation Action Plan which shows cost targets for the 16 technical issues. Technical issues include: making renewable energy as the main power source, building a robust power networks using digital technology, building a low-cost hydrogen supply chain, and establishing green mobility through various approaches among others.

(2) The Acceleration Plan which shows the research system and investment promotion measures for realizing it.

(3) The Zero Emissions Initiatives to co-create with global leaders for social implementation.

The Innovative Environmental Innovation Strategy aims to establish technologies and their social implementation that will enable global carbon neutrality and the reduction of past stock-based CO2 emissions by 2050.

Considering the lead time required for the social application of technology and the emergence of countermeasure effects, it is desirable to set the goal of building a net-zero society in 2050 first, and then set the goals for each technology development year and their priorities. Also, since there is high uncertainty as to the realization of new technologies, it is advisable to take robust measures to reduce GHG emissions with existing technologies and modifying existing systems immediately.

Next, let us consider a vision for an innovative transition to a zero-carbon society in Japan.

First, let’s look at people’s attitudes and behavioral changes in a net-zero society, which are expected to change.  Specifically, there will be a shift from possession value to functional value. There will be a spread of a recycling-based society and the sharing economy, and technological progress such as digitization. Consumption selection will also change accordingly. At the same time, the declining population in local and regional areas will become more serious, and the frequent climate-related disasters will raise awareness of safety and disaster prevention. As a result, lifestyles, work styles, urban forms, and infrastructure will change significantly. Regarding transportation, electrification, automatic driving, and use of public transportation will progress. These changes have a significant impact on resources and energy use.

Second is a net-zero city with regional structure and use of national land. The structure of cities and regions will significantly change. The population of Japan is expected to decrease to about 100 million by 2050, and about 20% of residential areas will be deserted. As a result, there will be areas that cannot be maintained unless they are made compact, which will require concentration and withdrawal of social infrastructure. By taking advantage of these opportunities and investing capital in a way that is consistent with a net-zero society, the development and diffusion of the new decarbonized energy infrastructure such as renewable energy, district heating, zero-emission houses (ZEH) /zero-emission buildings (ZEB), and fast charging electric stations should be promoted.

For example, ZEB and ZEH are being built to make office buildings and residential houses energy neutral. The final energy consumption by the household sector is about 30% and is increasing faster than in other sectors. Energy conservation in this sector is an urgent challenge for Japan. In this context, ZEB is a focus of attention. The Plan for Global Warming Countermeasures calls for net-zero energy in all new public facilities by 2020 and all new construction by 2030. In addition, the plan calls for ZEH in a majority of custom-built single-family houses that home-building companies construct by 2020 and provides for measures to encourage such construction. Sekisui House Ltd., the largest house maker in Japan, reports that over 70% of the new single-family houses they build by the order are already ZEH[28].

With the development of infrastructure due to the spread of electric vehicles, the concept of MaaS (Mobility as a Service), which is linked to the innovation of digital technologies such as beyond 5G, will be embodied and the modes of transportation will become diverse.

Renewable energy will be widely installed on unused land, more trees will be planted, and local agriculture and home and roof gardens will be utilized. In this connection, the “Solar Farm” system[29] which installs patented translucent solar panels on greenhouses is attracting attention. This is a good example of adaptation to climate change impacts through next-generation agricultural technology and farm management systems.

Third is the net-zero lifestyle that will change both how people live and work. Consumption patterns will change from product ownership to function consumption. Purchasing behavior will become more efficient with the use of AI and IoT. People’s awareness of health, as well as the internalization of the social cost of carbon (SCC), will increase.

In the transformation of work styles and working spaces there will be a decrease in the number of people who work in offices and an increase in telework. Changes in work styles will reduce the time for commuting and reduce per capita travel demand for passenger transport as electric vehicles and public transportation are generally used as modes of transportation when working in the office. As for freight transport, it will be made more energy efficient by the development of various logistics technologies.

Finally, the transformation of the energy-intensive industry into a net-zero industry will cause a change in product demand that will be brought about by the social changes as well as energy efficiency during manufacturing. For example, the steel industry expects a dramatic decrease in CO2 emissions through the replacement of auto parts with a decrease in demand for iron and the adoption of electric furnaces and the adoption of the hydrogen reduction method[30].

The cement industry is expected to reduce demand by replacing clinker, decarbonize energy through renewable energy, and switch from building materials to cement-cross-laminated timber (CLT)[31].

In the petrochemical industry, in addition to the electrification of automobiles and the decrease in demand for petroleum fuels and petroleum raw materials by using recycled materials, the use of hydrogen derived from renewable energy and the decarbonization of energy through the mainstreaming of materials using bioresources will be promoted[32].

The glass manufacturing industry is expected to decarbonize energy by converting the energy of the melting furnace to the energy that does not emit CO2, such as electricity and hydrogen, derived from renewable energy[33].

And in the pulp and paper industry, in addition to increasing demand for products by replacing plastic containers, it is anticipated that electricity used in digesters will be decarbonized[34].

5. Innovative transition pathways to a zero-carbon society in Japan and the world

Regrettably, Japan is often awarded the Fossil of the Day award[35] at the UNFCCC COPs and is recognized as a coal addict country. Also, according to the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, an independent monitoring report for tracking countries’ climate protection performance, Japan ranked 51st among 57 countries and in the group of very low performers (see Diagram 5).

The international community is looking at Japan to strengthen her efforts to address climate change, such as the issue of coal-fired thermal power plants and raising the ambition of the national goal to mitigate climate change.

(Diagram 5, Climate Change Performance Index 2020[36])

For Japan to take the lead and become a role model in global climate change measures, it is imperative that at the government level they take several measures: 1) set ambitious GHG reduction targets such as 40-50% reduction by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050, 2) radically reform current coal-fired power policy, including stopping construction of new coal-fired power plants, and discontinue providing financial assistance for the construction of coal-fired power plants abroad, and 3) to introduce full-fledged carbon pricing.

By setting clear and ambitious targets and identifying innovative pathways to transition to a zero-carbon society, Japan can exert its leadership in the international community through cooperating with other nations. At the same time, the government can boost investment in the private sector by sending a clear and positive signal to the business community on climate change, which has become a very important issue in business decisions today.

Also, major changes to the current Energy Basic Plan are needed. According to the current Fifth Strategic Energy Plan[37], power sources in 2030 will be “26% coal-fired power, 22-24% renewable energy, and 20-22% nuclear power.” Coal-fired and nuclear power plants have large numbers and renewable energy is too small. In the sixth revision, these figures must be drastically changed to increase renewable energy and reduce dependence on coal and nuclear.

In the world, not only climate change but also various social and technological changes are taking place simultaneously. How can we draw innovative transition pathways to a zero-carbon society in this rapidly changing world?

In innovative transition pathways, electrification would progress in all areas of the home, business, transportation, and industry; and the efficiency of energy use per service would increase. In the industrial sector, the use of hydrogen for some high heat demands and the use of hydrogen as a raw material will increase. As a result, a society that uses little fossil fuels will be established. Almost all of the energy will be provided by renewable energy. Eliminating the use of fossil fuels will also reduce fossil fuel imports by around ¥19 trillion compared to that of 2015[38].

At the same time, due to the thorough efficiency of energy use, the required amount of energy will fall within the domestic renewable energy potential. As a result, the use of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) can be kept to a minimum, so that highly available domestic CO2 reservoirs can be used for a long time.

Utilizing innovative transition pathways is the direction that Japan should aim towards to achieve a zero-carbon society. To that end, it is necessary to introduce various measures in all sectors of society. This cannot be done by one organization alone but must be positioned as a national strategy that all stakeholders in Japan should work for in tandem. In particular, for those infrastructures that will be used for a long time, such as buildings, large-scale power generation facilities, and equipment in the industrial sector, a long-term plan should be set immediately. When taking advantage of the opportunities for renewing various facilities, significant changes must be made to adapt to the social change in the future. It is critical to respond to social changes in advance.

If such new and innovative transition pathways can be realized in Japan, including changes in technology, social systems, and lifestyles to a zero-carbon and sustainable economy, there is a high possibility that Japan will greatly contribute to transitioning to a more sustainable world.

The article author is Kazuo Matsushita, Professor Emeritus at Kyoto University in Japan. 

[1] “Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warning of 1.5℃,” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2018, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/.

[2] Ayumi Shintaku and Hidenami Shibata, “Natural disaster insurance pays record high of 1.6 trillion yen,” Asahi Shimbun Digital, May 21, 2019,  https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASM5N5CM5M5NULFA01T.html.

[3] “Climate Action,” United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/.

[4] “National Determined Contributions (NDCs),” United Nations Climate Change, https://unfccc.int/.

[5] Francisco Parra, “COP25 president Carolina Schmidt blames big emitters for low-ambition climate talks,” Climate Home News, January 15, 2020, https://www.climatechangenews.com/2020/01/15/cop25-president-carolina-schmidt-blames-big-emitters-low-ambition-climate-talks/.

[6] “National Low Carbon Strategy Project: The ecological and inclusive transition towards carbon neutrality,” French Ministry for an Ecological and Inclusive Transition, December 2018, https://www.ecologique-solidaire.gouv.fr/sites/default/files/Projet%20SNBC%20EN.pdf.

[7] “A European Green Deal,” European Commission, 2019, https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en.

[8] “RENEWABLES 2018 GLOBAL STATUS REPORT,” Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, 2018, https://www.ren21.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/GSR2018_Full-Report_English.pdf.

[9] “Outlines of Japan’s Long-Term Strategy under the Paris Agreement,” Government of Japan, June 11, 2019, https://www.env.go.jp/press/111914.pdf.

[10] “Carbon Neutrality Coalition welcomes new members, pledges renewed ambition at UN Climate Action Summit,” Carbon Neutrality Coalition, September 23, 2019, https://www.carbon-neutrality.global/carbon-neutrality-coalition-welcomes-new-members-pledges-renewed-ambition-at-un-climate-action-summit/.

[11] “Innovative Environmental Innovation Strategy,” Government of Japan, January 21, 2020, https://www8.cao.go.jp/cstp/siryo/haihui048/siryo6-2.pdf.

[12] “Secretary-General’s remarks at opening ceremony of UN Climate Change Conference COP25 [as delivered].,” United Nations Secretary-General, 02 December 2019, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2019-12-02/secretary-generals-remarks-opening-ceremony-of-un-climate-change-conference-cop25-delivered.

[13] “Strategic Energy Plan,” METI, Government of Japan, 2018, https://www.enecho.meti.go.jp/en/category/others/basic_plan/5th/pdf/strategic_energy_plan.pdf.

[14] Christine Shearer et al, “Boom and Bust 2020: TRACKING THE GLOBAL COAL PLANT PIPELINE,” End Coal, 2020, https://endcoal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/BoomAndBust_2020_English.pdf

[15] “Risk Analysis of Coal-Fired Power Pl ant Investment in Japan,” Renewable Energy Institute, 2019, https://www.renewable-ei.org/en/activities/reports/20191024.php.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “Business Risks of New Coal-fired Power Plant Projects in Japan,” Renewable Energy Institute, 2017, https://www.renewable-ei.org/en/activities/reports/img/20170720/REI_Report_20170901_CoalBusinessRisk_EN.pdf. As shown in Diagram 3, coal-fired power generation emits the largest amount of carbon dioxide among all types of fossil fuel generation. The emission factor of ultra-supercritical (USC) generation, a coal-fired power generation technology widely used in practice, is more than double that of gas turbine combined cycle (GTCC) generation, also widely used among gas-fired generation methods. Integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) generation, a technique that has just been put into practical use for some plants, is also more than twice GTCC in emission factor. Integrated coal gasification fuel cell combined cycle (IGFC) generation, a method believed to achieve the lowest emission factor among all the coal-fired generation technologies, has yet to reach the stage of practical application.

[18] “Report of the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices,” Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/report-of-the-highlevel-commission-on-carbon-prices.

[19] “2050 Zero Carbon Cities in Japan,” Ministry of Environment, Government of Japan, 2019, http://www.env.go.jp/en/earth/cc/2050_zero_carbon_cities_in_japan.html.

[20] “Japan Climate Initiative,” Japan Climate Initiative, https://japanclimate.org/english/.

[21] “JCI’s statement to call on the Japanese Government for its NDC enhancement,” Japan Climate Initiative, 04 February 2020, https://japanclimate.org/english/news-topics/callforndcenhancement/.

[22] “Calling on the Japanese government to enhance its NDC,” Japan Climate Initiative, 04 February 2020, https://japanclimate.org/english/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2020/02/ndc-enhancement-statement_EN_rev.pdf.

[23] CDP is a not-for-profit charity that runs the global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states, and regions to manage their environmental impacts.

[24] Science Based Targets: Driving Ambitious Corporate Climate Action, https://sciencebasedtargets.org/.

[25] RE100, http://there100.org/.

[26] “Innovative Environmental Innovation Strategy,” Government of Japan.

[27] “Integrated Innovation Strategy (Summary),” Government of Japan, https://www8.cao.go.jp/cstp/english/doc/integrated_outline.pdf.

[28] “Zero Energy House (ZEH): Dissemination Targets and Performance Reports,” Seikusi House, https://www.sekisuihouse.co.jp/zeh/.

[29] “Adapting to Climate Change,” Annual Report on the Environment in Japan 2019, Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan, https://www.env.go.jp/en/wpaper/2019/pdf/04.pdf. The Farmdo Group has introduced a high-tech agricultural system involving the generation of power by solar panels and the reclamation of abandoned fields. The system can increase yields and increase farm income through revenues from the sale of electricity. This “Solar Farm” system installs patented translucent solar panels on greenhouses. The panels allow enough light to grow crops underneath and generate electricity at the same time. The system adjusts the ratio of light reaching the crops by adjusting the translucency of the solar panels. Panel adjustments are controlled automatically by IoT technology, along with temperature, moisture, and fertilizer in the greenhouse environment. The system also automatically manages the effects of the weather, enabling environmentally controlled agriculture that is not overly dependent on the climate. By giving farmers a double income, the system can help put farms on a firmer financial basis. The system has already been partially implemented in Mongolia and other overseas regions.

[30] Yeen Chan et al. “Industrial Innovation: Pathways to deep decarbonisation of Industry,” Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI), January 20, 2019, https://ec.europa.eu/clima/sites/clima/files/strategies/2050/docs/industrial_innovation_part_1_en.pdf.

[31] “CSR Report 2019,” Taiheiyo Cement Corporation, 2019, https://www.taiheiyo-cement.co.jp/csr/pdf/data/2019/2019_rep_0912.pdf., Ibid.

[32] “Chemical manufacturer Kaneka issues a green bond to boost biodegradable plastic production,” Research Institute for Environmental Finance (RIEF), 2019.

[33] “Electro Heat Handbook,” Japan Electro Heat Center, Ohmsha, 2019.

[34] Ibid.

[35] “Fossil of the Day” award is an award bestowed on countries considered uncooperative toward reducing global warming during the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, by a group representing environmental NGOs from around the world.

[36] Jan Burck et al. “The Climate Change Performance Index 2020,” Germanwatch, December 10, 2019, https://www.climate-change-performance-index.org/sites/default/files/documents/ccpi-2020-results-the_climate_change_performance_index.pdf.

[37] “Strategic Energy Plan,” METI, Government of Japan.

[38] “Trade Statistics of Ministry of Finance, Tokyo,” Ministry of Finance, Government of Japan, 2019.

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