It is strange that a population so careful about their local environment, willing to help reduce local factory pollution and clear up sports stadiums can seem somewhat uninterested in doing much about climate change.
In 1997, Japan was at the forefront of climate action. The birthplace of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement committing countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the country came to be synonymous with cutting carbon.
Fast-forward 21 years and Japan has struggled to make significant progress on reducing its own emissions.
Japan has a very limited supply of natural resources, so energy security dominates the political agenda, with climate change seen as the poor relation. With public concern over the safety of nuclear power following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident still high, and renewables languishing at around 15% of the energy mix, Japan still depends largely on imported fossil fuels.
The country seems hooked on coal. The share of coal in the electricity mix actually increased from 10% in 1990 to 31% in 2015. With ambitions to build around 40 new coal-fired power plants, on top of some 100 existing ones, it’s not surprising that fossil fuels still dominate energy plans. By 2030 the government envisages that fossil fuels will make up 56% of the Japanese energy mix — more than the nuclear (20-22%) and renewable (22-24%) capacity combined.
What’s more, Japan has been slow to reduce emissions by enhancing the energy efficiency of domestic infrastructure. Homes in Japan are designed to be earthquake-proof and tend to be built with the humid summer weather in mind. As a result, buildings often have thin walls that provide minimal insulation, resulting in the overuse of air conditioning units both in the summer and in the winter.
Taking all this into account, Japan’s contribution to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement — a target to reduce its emissions by 26% by 2030, against a 2013 baseline — is considered unambitious on the international stage.
Japan needs to catch up. Change is needed at all levels, from the routine of every citizen to national energy policy. It is strange that a population so careful about their local environment, willing to help reduce local factory pollution and clear up sports stadiums can seem somewhat uninterested in doing much about climate change.