Source: International Energy Agency
Decarbonization, or else
Above all, the most strongly needed policies in Japan are ones that move toward the decarbonization of energy. Even during the recent COP25 meeting, held in Madrid, Japan was criticized by NGOs for its continued use of coal-fired power plants, both domestically and overseas. As long as electricity generation is not decarbonized, electric cars will not make a substantial difference in GHG emission reductions. On 3 July 2020, the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Hiroshi Kajiyama, surprised all those with stakes in climate change policy by announcing the ministry’s intention to close nearly one hundred old, inefficient coal-fired power plants in Japan by 2030. This sounds like a great breakaway from the ministry’s traditional position of supporting coal-fired power plants, under the justification that coal is the cheapest, most abundant source of energy. However, it seems premature to celebrate at this point in time, because the details are yet to be discussed by a group of experts that is yet to be set up. The ministry is still planning to build new coal-fired power plants, which, it insists, will be "highly efficient." Further, this position is out of step with efforts being observed in many other countries that aim at a total phasing out of coal-fired power plants, no matter how energy efficient they are.
Besides, the distribution of renewable energy requires the building of not only new power generating facilities but also power transmission systems. Japanese transmission lines used to be owned by the major electrical power companies. Electricity markets in Japan have been gradually liberalized, yet small renewable power companies still have difficulty transmitting their electricity to consumers.
We are now in difficult circumstances owing to Covid-19. Unlike what is seen in the proposed recovery plan of the European Commission, the Japanese government, although it has been heavily subsidizing people who have lost their incomes, is not interested in a "green recovery," one achieved by creating jobs in areas where investments would help reduce GHG emissions and contribute to a greener planet for the next generation. Japan needs to acknowledge that investment in the Covid-19 recovery could be turned into a great opportunity to invest in reducing GHG emissions.