Responding to Global Warming: the Zero Emissions Club Gets Bigger

After China, it is now the turn of Japan and South Korea: are we on the brink of a domino effect?
The newly appointed Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, used his first Diet policy speech to promise net zero emissions by 2050. Reaching this goal will require fundamental changes and reveals a welcome shift in Japanese climate ambition. A move that was soon echoed by President Moon Jae-in who also formally committed to lead South Korea to net zero emissions by 2050.

Photo by Daryan Shamkhali on Unsplash

Japan’s net zero pledge

As the world’s third largest economy and fifth emitter, the importance of Japan’s climate pledge cannot be understated. In the past Japan had not made a formal commitment to carbon neutrality and had failed to include targets in its “Long-term Strategy under the Paris Agreement”. Therefore, this new promise marks a significant shift from the policies of Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe.

What needs to be done

The big question being asked by onlookers is how will a country that relies so heavily on coal for its energy generation manage to achieve this goal. According to Teruyuki Ohno, Executive Director at the Renewable Energy Institute (REI), “In order for today’s 2050 Carbon Neutral Declaration to really strengthen Japan’s climate actions, it is necessary to significantly strengthen the GHG reduction target for 2030, and to completely phase out coal-fired power generation including those which have been called ‘high efficiency’. As research by the Renewable Energy Institute has revealed, the key to policy shifts is to supply 45% of electricity from renewable energy by 2030.”

Japan needs a roadmap

Although Suga’s speech has led to optimism there is also a lot of scepticism due to the lack of a concrete roadmap. According to Takejiro Sueyoshi, the representative of Japan Climate Initiative, “We believe that the government have responded to the pioneering efforts of a wide range of these non-state actors. This is an important step, but the problem is yet to come. Not only does the government need to set a goal for 30 years from now, it must set a concrete roadmap and immediately strengthen its actions, aiming for significant reductions by 2030. Again, We urge the government to reinforce its NDC and raise its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by 2030.”

The domino effect

Just days after Japan’s new commitment South Korea also moved in the same direction. This is significant as South Korea currently relies on coal for over 40% of its energy generation and renewables make up less than 6% of its energy mix. President Moon announced that the countries Green New Deal would end their reliance on coal and bring a shift towards renewables with a multibillion-dollar plan to invest in green infrastructure, clean energy and electric vehicles. This will also involve putting an end to financing overseas coal plants, implementing a carbon tax and lowering industrial carbon emissions.

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