“Unusually strong typhoons, heavy rainfall and damaging floods tested the resilience of Japan’s famous urban infrastructure throughout 2018. Rather than freak weather events, these phenomena are increasingly the norm. They will only get worse as temperatures rise. Despite this, Japan remains the fifth largest greenhouse gas polluter in the world. It is barely doing its share to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
With energy-related greenhouse gas emissions making up the bulk of Japan’s emissions, reducing these is key to furthering Japan’s climate policy. While renewable energy generation is expanding, it still falls short of filling the gap created by disappearing nuclear power generation capacities. Instead, gas and coal-fired thermal power plants currently compensate for discontinued nuclear power plants.
In 2016, Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions were only 1.6 per cent below 2005 levels, far from the 25 per cent by 2030 target that Japan has committed to. The worst source of these emissions — coal — accounted for 33 per cent of Japanese electricity generation, while natural gas accounted for 38 per cent. These levels are 7 per cent and 11 per cent more, respectively, than envisaged in Japan’s Energy Mix 2030 document.
Recently, the Japanese government launched a Basic Hydrogen Strategy to decarbonise the electricity and transport sector. But hydrogen is not actually an energy source. Rather, it is an energy carrier that requires green electricity to reduce emissions. This means the strategy will require a much greater share of renewable energy than currently envisaged. The Japanese government needs to not only push renewables, which have become much cheaper in the last few years, but also consider other policy options.
Tokyo does not look like a success story at first glance. But it provides a noteworthy model.
According to the Tokyo metropolitan government’s Final Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Tokyo report, Tokyo metropolitan area’s emissions stood at almost 66 billion metric tons in 2014, an increase of 9.2 per cent on 2005 levels. Yet, over the same period, Tokyo’s population increased 6.4 per cent.
This number comes very close to the 65 billion metric tons that Tokyo emitted in 2010, just before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Despite all of TEPCO’s nuclear power plants being shut down since, Tokyo’s emissions have fallen to almost pre-disaster levels and sit below the 2002 and 2007 yearly levels when TEPCO had to shut down some of its nuclear power plants. Tokyo’s policies have allowed the city to control emissions despite population increases and discontinued nuclear power plants.
The Tokyo metropolitan government has introduced bolder and wider-ranging climate protection measures than the national government. In 2010, it put in place the world’s first carbon dioxide emissions cap and trade program at the city level, the Emissions Trading System (ETS). As a market-based policy measure, Tokyo’s ETS falls short of the carbon dioxide tax that Japan’s Ministry of Environment is calling for. But it goes beyond the national government’s voluntary emissions reductions.
The ETS covers over 1000 large facilities, including industrial, public and educational facilities, as well as commercial buildings. From 2010–2014, these facilities reduced emissions by 6–8 per cent, depending on the type of facility. Tokyo is also on track to meet the 15–17 per cent reduction requirement for the 2015–2019 period.
After the Fukushima accident, the Tokyo metropolitan government went even further in promoting energy conservation and efficiency. It turned off heated toilet seats, removed unnecessary lights, put in energy efficient LED light bulbs and installed more efficient heating systems in Tokyo’s public buildings. Using a so-called ‘Cool Biz’ campaign, it called on companies to allow for higher temperatures in offices by relaxing office dress codes.
Government leaders also brought public transport operators on board, extending energy-reducing measures to Tokyo’s many trains and stations. These included removing unnecessary lights, switching off lights during the day and reducing air-conditioning in train cars. As a result, electricity consumption in Tokyo has fallen 10–15 per cent since 2010.
The Tokyo metropolitan government has illustrated how to reduce emissions without restarting nuclear power plants. It offers a model for Japan’s national climate policy. The Japanese government should take the December 2018 ‘COP24’ climate conference — the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — in Poland as an opportunity to review the country’s climate policy.
It is time for Japan to follow Tokyo’s lead and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by combining energy efficiency, conservation measures and an ETS with a push for more renewable energy use. Lowering energy demand — while simultaneously greening the electricity supply — will put Japan’s climate policy back on track.
Florentine Koppenborg is a post-doctoral researcher at the Chair of Environmental and Climate Policy, School of Governance, Technical University Munich. “
by Florentine Koppenborg, Technical University Munich via East Asia Forum
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