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Big Letdown From A Top Emitter: Japan’s Tardy INDC

At long last, Japan has entered its official Intended Nationally Determined Contribution into the pool of national climate pledges for the UN’s Paris COP21 talks in December. The Paris summit aims for a worldwide agreement to limit global average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, but it looks increasingly unlikely that total pledges this year can deliver at this low a level.

Power sources at a Japanese seaport (naharnet beta)

An industrial/commercial giant and the third largest economy in the world, Japan has once again disappointed. As expected, the Asian nation officially pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26% from 2013 levels by 2030. The promise remains essentially the same as what we all expected in March when Japan missed its first international INDC deadline, in May, and in June, when the second milestone went by.

The fifth-largest air polluter in the world, Japan emits more greenhouse gases than most other nations. In 2010, Japan accounted for 2.65% of global emissions. With the new Japanese commitment, about ¼ of the world’s nations (46) have submitted INDCs.  So far, about 59% of global emissions are covered.

Japan's mixed-energy plan for 2030 (

Japan’s mixed-energy plan for 2030 (

We show Japan’s proposed energy mix for 2030 in the chart at right. Notably, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has decided to rely slightly more on renewables (22-24%) than on nuclear (20-22%), which served 30% of the country’s power needs before the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and ensuing disaster at the Fukushima I nuclear reactors. Before then, the Japanese had expected the nuclear share to rise to 50%. The new Japan INDC plans to get an additional 26% of their power from coal by 2030 and 27% from gas, for a 53% fossil fuel total. It also relies heavily on LULUCF targets and new and yet unproven Joint Crediting Mechanism results.

Last month, Climate Action Tracker bluntly tagged the expected Japan INDC as “inadequate.” It cited newspaper articles reporting that Japan was aiming for a target of 20% below 2013 emission levels by 2030–perhaps allowing the Japanese people to take extra credit for an apparent 6% increase in climate goals at the final submission. Ed King of RTCC stated that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did commit in June to a raft of new carbon-cutting plans advocated strongly by German, French, and other EU leaders and the US and reflected in the final Japan INDC.

But the team at CAT reports that based on current policies, the country will only derive 42-45% of its energy from low-carbon sources by 2030. Says Niklas Höhne of New Climate Institute, which helped produce the CAT analysis:

“Japan agreed in the G7 communique to complete the transition of its energy system towards decarbonization by 2050, which is not possible with the current draft INDC. Japan’s proposed energy strategy will not only delay its shift to a low carbon economy, it will also put Japanese industry at a competitive disadvantage with other countries that are currently undertaking these shifts.”

For more details, check CAT’s extensive report here.

Change of national circumstances after Fukushima (draft 2015 INDC )

Change of national circumstances after Fukushima (draft 2015 INDC )

In its official UN INDC submission, as in all documents since March 2011, Japan cited the Fukushima meltdowns as forcing a drastic change in its circumstances with respect to energy. A new Strategic Energy Plan for power generation plan up to 2030, completed by METI on Thursday, serves as “a starting point for reviewing and rebuilding our energy strategy from scratch.”

However, skeptics have noticed immediately that using the 2013 baseline gives Japan an advantage over other nations because the country suffered unusually high carbon emissions that year after all the nuclear power plants closed due to the unprecedented accidents at Fukushima. Analysts at Climate Action Tracker have told Megan Darby of RTCC that if all countries matched Japan’s low ambitions, global warming would exceed 3-4 degrees Celsius by 2100.

In fact, the relatively conservative International Energy Agency has already said that the carbon reduction plans released by the world’s largest economies reveal a global path “consistent with an average temperature increase of around 2.6 degrees Celsius by 2100 and 3.5 degrees Celsius after 2200.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance, cited in The Hill,  notes that carbon emissions will rise by 13% in 2040, regardless of trillions of dollars in new renewable energy investment.

Christiana Figueres, leader of the UNFCCC, has been preparing participants for a shortfall for many months. However, she’s optimistic that although current measures will likely exceed 2 degrees above the preindustrial level, the results will bond world governments in a first-ever universal commitment and springboard appropriate refinements in future negotiations.

Green groups admit the likelihood of initial failure to hit the target, but they hope the gap will lead the business sector to mobilize clean technology investments around the world as a prevention against tougher government policies. An additional plus from currently low expectations is that these may spur a movement to induce governments to reassess their plans formally at given intervals.

Says Oxfam analyst Maiko Morishita about the Japan INDC:

“With plans to build 52 new coal-fired power plants, Japan is heading in the wrong direction and put at odds with the G7’s recent commitment to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century.”

Darby reports that even back in April, think tank E3G noted that “Japan’s lack of climate ambition [is] diminishing its influence on the world stage and weakening its competitiveness in the low-carbon economy.”

The new Japan INDC for the global climate change summit in Paris at the end of the year falls short of many expectations. With the Fukushima meltdowns nearly five years in the past, it’s time for Japan to stop pleading misfortune and step up to the realities of our common climate future.

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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."


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