• Japan aims to reduce emissions to zero and become carbon-neutral by 2050.
  • Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the new shift in his first address to parliament since taking office.
  • He said solar cells and carbon recycling would be key, but warned Japan would also need to start decommissioning coal power.

Japan is aiming to cut greenhouse gases to zero by 2050 and become a carbon-neutral society, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Monday as he unveiled a major shift in position on climate change.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga gives his first policy speech in parliament as an extraordinary session opens in Tokyo, Japan October 26, 2020.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the new plans in October 2020.
Image: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Japan had previously said it would be carbon neutral as soon as possible in the second half of the century, rather than set an explicit date.

“Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth,” Suga said in his first policy address to parliament since taking office last month.

“We need to change our thinking to the view that taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about great growth.”

Japan’s target of no greenhouse gases emissions on a net basis by 2050 brings it into line with the European Union, which set a target of being carbon neutral by that same date last year. Chinese President Xi Jinping in September pledged to make his country “carbon neutral” by 2060.

Japan is the world’s fifth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, and while steps are being taken to increase renewable energy, it also plans to roll out new coal-burning power stations.

Yoshihide Suga Japan carbon neutral environment renewable energy
Image: World Economic Forum

Later, Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama told a news conference that plans for attaining key parts of the goal would be drawn up by the end of the year.

“Carbon neutrality itself is a growth strategy, and we must carry it out with all we have,” he added.

To achieve its goals, Suga said new solar cells and carbon recycling would be key, and Japan would intensify research and development in those areas, along with digitalising society - a policy he has pushed since taking over from Shinzo Abe.

The announcement was cheered by policy makers and investors.

“Japan joining the EU in targeting carbon neutrality by 2050 is very welcome, and so is PM Suga’s focus on green technologies and especially solar, as a growth driver,” said Eric Pedersen, Nordea Asset Management’s head of responsible investment.

But he also warned that Japan would need to start decommissioning coal power and stop building and financing new coal power abroad.

In a nod to Japan’s deep economic ties with giant neighbour China, Suga said a stable bilateral relationship was essential - but also said that Japan would maintain contact with “all like-minded nations for a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Suga last week made his first visit to Vietnam and Indonesia, part of Japan’s efforts to strengthen ties with Southeast Asian countries as a counter to China’s growing push to assert claims over disputed East China Sea isles.

Suga initially was buoyed by strong support, but a poll conducted by the Nikkei and TV Tokyo at the weekend said his approval had fallen by 11 points to 63% since a poll after he took office a month ago.

Disapproval rose by 9 points to 26%, partly due to limited easing of international travel restrictions along with his rejection of six scholars for membership in a science advisory panel, raising concern about academic freedom, the Nikkei said.