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Japan’s Got a Plan: Carbon Neutral by 2050

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

By Niva Cohen and Becca Miller

Opinion Editor and A&E Editor

Scientists say that to evade the most disastrous effects of climate change, we must eliminate global net greenhouse emissions by 2050. Japan has decided to step up to the challenge. Yoshihide Suga, Japanese Prime Minister, has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050. Despite widespread concerns that progressive change would disrupt the economy, the International Energy Agency has voiced the contrary. Ever since 2015, it says, fiscal advancement hasn’t been tethered to carbon emissions. Suga echoed this sentiment in his first address to Parliament, saying that “responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth.”

Some doubt the plausibility of this plan, as Japan emits the fifth most carbon dioxide in the world. The country uses 210,559,949 tons of coal per year, as well as other fossil fuels, and the public is generally against increasing their use of nuclear energy, so Suga’s timeline might be unrealistic. But the prime minister and his leadership team have plans to fulfill their ambitious agenda. They will use solar cells, carbon recycling, and more renewable energy on their path to net-zero carbon. At first, they aimed for 80% reduced emissions by 2050, but upon facing pushback, they have opted for a more aggressive timetable, aiming to do away with carbon emissions altogether. Suga’s team has gracefully straddled the balance between the nay-sayers and those complaining that they aren’t going far enough.

Although nuclear energy could expedite Suga’s plan, the Japanese are particularly averse to increasing it. In Japan, there is much residual trauma from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown almost a decade ago. “Nearly 10 years on from Fukushima we are still facing the disastrous consequences of nuclear power, and this radioactive legacy has made clear that nuclear energy has no place in a green, sustainable future,” says Sam Annesley, executive director of Greenpeace Japan. The Prime Minister has not promised to completely avoid nuclear energy but insists that safety will be a top priority.

Over 60 smaller countries have made the same pledge as Japan, along with the EU. China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, has a similar agenda but allows itself ten more years to get its act together. Trailing behind China in its carbon emissions is the U.S., which has no such plan, and, as of November 4th, has even taken steps back by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, the only country to do so. Many believe this has monumental implications for the global effort to reduce carbon emissions. According to Mauro Petriccone, director-general of the European Commission’s Climate Change group, “This kind of operation of this magnitude and the resources required? Well, without the U.S. it has seriously damaged the international process.”

With its pledge to go carbon neutral by 2050, Japan has set an example for the rest of the world. It won’t be an easy goal to meet, but Suga and his government are willing to put the work in to build a brighter -- and greener -- future. With the third-biggest economy in the world, Japan has proven it’s possible even for success-oriented countries to commit to making bold environmental reforms.


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