Dr Samuel Barbosa Da Cunha, CEO & Chairman at Bar Trading Japan discusses Japan’s recent announcement to become carbon neutral by 2050.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan has brought forward its commitment to reducing emissions. Prime Minster Yoshihide Suga used his first Parliamentary speech since taking office to announce the shift in policy.

Japan will now cut greenhouse gas emissions down to zero by 2050. This means within the next three decades the country will be a totally carbon-neutral society.

Japan will be carbon neutral by 2050 says Prime Minister
Previously, Japan had only committed to becoming carbon neutral at some undetermined point between 2050 and 2100. Therefore, setting an explicit and public date on its ambitions to achieving these sustainability goals is a significant step forward.

It’s indicative of changing investor attitudes towards sustainable and growth impact investment. And I believe we will see more countries follow suit as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to expose how unprepared the world is for major crises.

COVID-19 has exposed all kinds of weaknesses in health systems, the fragility of many country’s supply chains and infrastructure. This is particularly the case for emerging and developing economies. Year-on-year growth has abruptly stopped for countries that are suffering from high levels of transmission, limited testing capacity and high levels of poverty. While years of unconstrained growth in GDP could have continued, the pandemic has shown just how much needs to be done at a global level.

The pandemic is a wake-up call for major Governments and world leaders. More must be done at every level to ensure every society is prepared for the likely events caused by climate change. These will range from increasingly dangerous and destructive storms, coastal erosion and flooding, displaced populations and a high likelihood of future pandemics.

A global reset is necessary to tackle climate change

Countries like Japan recognise that the world needs a reset. And that the biggest shift towards a collective acceptance that measures to deal with climate change do not adversely impact economic growth. At the Parliamentary address, the Prime Minister said: “Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth.”

He went on to explain that it’s vital to change the prevailing view about climate change. He said: “taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about great growth.”

Japan is now on a par with the European Union (EU), which last year announced the same goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Over in China, President Xi Jinping recently announced that his country will achieve the same aim of no greenhouse gas emissions on a net basis by 2060.

The challenge of balancing the economy with carbon neutrality

There are concerns from eco-activists that these announcements are not enough, and that more must be done. And it is clear that tackling climate change while maintaining energy levels for the global population, and ensuring economies continue to grow during a pandemic, is the biggest challenge of our generation.

Exactly how Japan and other countries get from their present position to their goal remains unclear. As the fifth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, Japan is increasing renewable energy. However, there are also plans to roll-out a programme of new power stations that burn coal.

The official Japanese Government plans for reaching its goal of carbon neutrality are not yet available. Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajyama told the media that the key parts of the plan will be put together by the end of 2020. He said: “Carbon neutrality itself is a growth strategy, and we must carry it out with all we have”.

Decommissioning coal power must be the next step for Japan
While exact plans are being drawn up, the Prime Minister has dropped hints of what will be involved. He said that carbon recycling and new solar cells will be major areas for intense research and development. The digitisation of every part of society is also part of the plan, and this remains a key priority for Suga.

Japan’s announcement has been met with a positive reception from investors. It is an extremely welcome stance from the Government as is the Prime Minister’s focus on green tech. However, I believe that without decommissioning coal power and stopping overseas investment in coal power, this may not be enough to reach the 2050 goal.