Round-table discussionJapanese experts foresee greater nongovernmental
role in realizing 'decarbonized society'

April 25, 2018


Japanese researchers have predicted a series of changes in the political and social environment surrounding efforts to halt global warming, with nongovernmental players seen to have a greater role in realizing the so-called decarbonized society.

IMG_3319.jpg Following the U.S. government's withdrawal from the Paris climate accord under President Donald Trump's "America First" policy, nongovernmental entities, including business corporations and citizens' groups, will take the lead in moves to drive the fight against global warming, said Yukari Takamura, a professor of the Nagoya University Graduate School of Environmental Studies.

IMG_3331.jpg "The time has ended when we can pin our hopes on the governance of states and governments in overcoming global climate change," said Takeo Kikkawa, a professor of Tokyo University of Science.

While noting the importance of environmental, social and governance, or ESG investment, in pursuit of the decarbonized society, Kikkawa called for carefully watching corporate efforts to comply with the pertinent environmental standards from now on.

The two figures were among four experts invited to an Internet debate organized by the independent Japanese think tank The Genron NPO to discuss global climate change. The debate, which was held Feb. 23, also included Junichi Fujino, a senior researcher of the National Institute for Environmental Studies, and Yusuke Matsuo, the business task force director of the Institute for Global Environmental Studies.

IMG_3327.jpgVarious new initiatives have been proposed to introduce an external monitoring system to check the pledges made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not just by governments but also by business enterprises, Fujino said.

IMG_3335.jpg The Paris climate accord, hammered out at the Conference of the Parties, or COP 21, meeting in December 2015, was important in that the participating countries agreed how to maintain societal stability in overcoming global climate change, said Matsuo.

The agreement, which took effect in November 2016, calls for the countries involved to strive to restrict global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius, if possible to 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

Takamura noted that the contracting parties are working to create rules for fully implementing the measures envisioned in the agreement. Specifically, they have introduced decarbonization targets to reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions effectively to zero by the second half of this century in line with the 2 C target, she said.

The Paris climate agreement is being driven forward on four fronts -- an energy shift from coal to gas, from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and as a result, market moves to choose new energy sources as they become cheaper, a shift toward zero-emission vehicles, changes in corporate behavior and changes in the related financial system, Takamura said.


Genron NPO President Yasushi Kudo, who served as moderator at the four-way discussion, asked the participants whether the 2 C target can be attained.

"A feasible scenario has been written (to achieve the target), but the target itself is high," Fujino said.

Foreseeing a picture of the world when the global warming target will have been achieved, Takamura said that low-carbon electricity will account for about 90 percent of total power consumption by around the year 2050 because the use of electric vehicles (EVs) will spread.

The Paris accord is "a grand challenge" that humankind will have to overcome to survive, Kikkawa said. The biggest crisis for humanity is poverty, he said, noting that 800 million people of the global population of 7 billion are suffering from poverty.

"A solution for us is just to try to be wealthier, but if the situation is unattended, a lot of energy will be used." If the problem of global warming is to be solved while pursuing a wealthier society, countries will have to make greater energy-saving efforts or develop more zero-emission power sources, he said.

Referring to the challenges facing Japan in its efforts to contain global warming, Kikkawa said that the country's major energy-related programs introduced by different government agencies are "totally inconsistent with each other."

Japan's long-term plan to halt global warming, prepared by the Environment Ministry and authorized as a Cabinet decision in 2016, envisages reducing the country's greenhouse gas emissions for 2050 by 80 percent from the 2014 level. Meanwhile, a long-term energy mix outlook toward 2030, prepared mainly by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in 2014, does not refer to the situation toward 2050.

If greenhouse gas emissions for 2050 are to be cut by 80 percent from the 2014 level, 90 percent of Japan's electricity needs will have to be met by zero-emission power sources at that time, but this point is not mentioned in the METI-sponsored program, Kikkawa noted.

Following progress in the shift to renewable energy sources, costs for solar power generation declined by 73 percent between 2010 and 2017, and those for power storage devices by 70 percent, according to Takamura. This means that solar energy, which has so far been regarded as a costly resource, is becoming almost competitive with fossil fuels in terms of generation costs, she said.

Referring to the rapid spread of EVs around the world, Takamura noted that rules introduced by India, China, France, Britain and California in the past year seek to permit only zero-emission vehicles on the road by certain years. One estimate says that costs for EVs will come down to levels almost equal to those for gasoline vehicles in 2025 and that one of every two vehicles will be an EV by around 2040.


Climate change around the world has been globally recognized as "a threat to society," Matsuo said. At a time when the governments of various countries are giving top priority to halting climate change, the way market players react to this trend must be watched, he said.

When the decarbonized society comes close to being a reality, coal and other fossil resources owned by global energy companies will become largely nonperforming, and they will begin to consider when is the most profitable time to dispose of these assets, he said.

Combined with the shift to renewable energy sources, the moves of global energy interests lead to very rapid developments in the situation surrounding climate change, Matsuo warned.

"What Japan will have to do is very simple," Kikkawa said. The amount of greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, estimated at 1.4 billion tons, must be reduced by 80 percent in 2050. The government should come up with a clear plan to this end, but the outlook is ambiguous, because METI insists on keeping Japan's atomic power generation at 20 percent to 22 percent of the country's total electricity needs.

Matsuo said that many people in Japan's business community seem at a loss as how to respond to the campaign against global warming. "Something is happening, but it is none of our business," appears to be the frank impression they have, he said.

They cannot understand that global warming is directly linked to their business, Matsuo said. "Their understanding is that global warming is a problem for polar bears, and that simply means the Earth is perspiring."

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