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Japan Decarbonizing Would Be Huge
Here's how it could happen.
We went to Japan this summer, and it’s an amazing place (see my Japan In 20 photos post).
On climate though, Japan seems asleep at the wheel.
But that could change. Economically mighty Japan could not only decarbonize itself, but become a major accelerator of global decarbonization… and grow its economy in the process.
First, the bad news.
Japan’s has the third or fourth largest economy in the world (around $5T). And it’s the third or fourth largest exporter in the world… in both cases neck and neck with Germany.
But it’s also the climate laggard of the G7, furthest behind on its 2030 emissions goals and with plans relying heavily on unproven carbon capture, ammonia and hydrogen technologies to keep burning fossil fuels for decades (vs. replacing them with renewables). Japan’s current prime minister is backtracking on his predecessor’s climate goals, and Japan is the only G7 nation that has refused to commit to bringing its coal usage to zero by 2030.
Furthermore, Japan’s world-leading car companies, like Toyota, have been slow-walking electrification, only recently (and unconvincingly) conceding they’ll need to build EVs to stay competitive with Chinese and Korean automakers, and Tesla.
Why does Japan continue to double down on fossil fuels? Some ideas:
Energy security: Japan’s been nervous about energy security ever since the oil shocks of the 1970s, and only got more so after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, which forced it to shut down most of its nuclear plants. Japan can currently only produce 11 percent of its energy needs without imported fuel.
Japan’s conservative (and very male) political leadership. They’re risk-averse, and revert to what they know (e.g. fossil fuels).
Sunk costs: Since 2011, Japan has constructed forty new coal plants… nearly a quarter of its total coal fleet.
Fossil profits: Japan Inc. makes tons of money off fossil fuel technologies (e.g. gas cars and trucks, building fossil plants etc), and doesn’t want that ‘disrupted’ by decarbonization.
Don’t-make-waves culture: There’s little climate activism in Japan. I found one activist group, but almost no ongoing visible protests.
Now, The Good News