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What is Japanʼs pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

In brief

This is a summary of the most important findings of our analysis. Get a brief overview over the most important figures and entry points into the various parts of the in depth analysis.

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Ambition gap

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Japanʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

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Displayed values
Reference year
−120 %−100 %−80 %−60 %−40 %−20 %0 %200020202040206012345
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
Legend
  1. 1
    1.5°C emissions level
    −65 %
  2. 2
    NDC
    −23 %
  3. 3
    Ambition gap
    −42 %
  4. 4
    Net zero GHG incl. BECCS excl. LULUCF and novel CDR
    2058
  5. 5
    Reference year
    2013
Key messages

The NDC update announced by Japan’s Prime Minister in April 2021 targets emissions reductions of 46% below 2013 levels. This new target is expected to be formalised when the country resubmits its NDC ahead of the COP 26 climate summit.1 Japan’s initial NDC, resubmitted in March 2020, sets a 2030 emissions reduction target of 26% below 2013 levels. If projected LULUCF sinks are excluded, the country’s NDC target reduces to 23% below 2013 levels (or 17% below 2010 levels), which translates to an emissions level of 1079 MtCO2e/yr in 2030.

1 Climate Action Tracker. Japan, Apr 2021 Update. Climate Target Update Tracker (2021).

2 Climate Action Tracker. Japan. CAT September 2020 Update. (2020).

3 Climate Action Tracker. Japan’s net-zero by 2050 announcement a step forward, but 2030 target revision now crucial. (2020).

4 Climate Action Tracker. Data & Trends. (2017).

5 IEA. Gas 2020. (2020).

6 World Bank. State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2020. (2020) doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1586-7.

7 Parra, P. et al. Science Based Coal Phase – Out Timeline for Japan Implications for Policymakers and Investors. (2018).

8 METI. Consideration of the phase-out of inefficient coal and the revision of rules on the use of power transmission lines to enable renewables becoming main power sources. In Japanese. (2020).

9 The Japan Times. METI minister signals a major shift for Japan away from coal and toward renewables. July 3, 2020.

10 Gray, M., Takamura, Y. & Morisawa, M. Land of the Rising Sun and Offshore Wind. (2019).

11 Arima, J. Reclaiming pragmatism in Japan’s energy policy. East Asia Forum (2021).

12 Deng, Y. Y. et al. Quantifying a realistic, worldwide wind and solar electricity supply. (2015).

13 Climate Transparency. Climate Transparency Report. (2020).

14 IEA. World Energy Balances 2019. (2020).

15 Government of Japan. Green Growth Strategy Through Achieving Carbon Neutrality. (2020).

16 The Government of Japan. Submission of Japan’s Nationally Determined Contribution. (2020).

17 NHK. Zenbun: Suga shushou shisei hoshin enzetsu [Full text: Prime Minister Suga’s policy speech]. (2021).

18 METI. Japan’s Fifth Strategic Energy Plan (provisional translation). 91 (2018).

19 Climate Action Tracker. Japan, Sep 2020 Update. Climate Target Update Tracker.

20 Schreyer, F. et al. Common but differentiated leadership: strategies and challenges for carbon neutrality by 2050 across industrialized economies. Environ. Res. Lett. 15, 114016 (2020).

21 Shiraki, H., Sugiyama, M., Matsuo, Y., Komiyama, R. & Fujimori, S. The role of renewables in the Japanese power sector : implications from the EMF35 JMIP. Sustain. Sci. (2021) doi:10.1007/s11625-021-00917-y.

22 Government of Japan. The Long-term Strategy under the Paris Agreement. (2019).

23 IEA. Offshore Wind Outlook 2019. https://www.iea.org/reports/offshore-wind-outlook-2019 (2019).

24 Kuriyama, A., Tamura, K. & Kuramochi, T. Can Japan enhance its 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets?–Assessment of economic and energy-related assumptions in Japan’s NDC. Energy Policy 328–340 (2019).
fn25. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Country Analysis Executive Summary: Japan. (2020).

26 Climate Action Tracker. Paris Agreement turning point: Wave of net zero targets reduces warming estimate to 2.1˚C in 2100, all eyes on 2030 targets. (2020).

27 In order to guarantee that the derived emissions still achieve the global temperature goal when aggregated together across all assessed countries we assess the distribution of pathways from the median until the 5th percentile to form the higher and lower bound of the 1.5°C compatible range (60-73% below 2013 levels). Emission values are rounded to integers. In the Climate Action Tracker a slightly different methodological choice is used to define a 1.5°C compatible benchmark, where projections are harmonised on a different historical year and the median of the range of 1.5° compatible pathways is used – 62% reduction from 2013 levels by 2030.

28 While global cost-effective pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C provide useful guidance for an upper-limit of emissions trajectories for developed countries, they underestimate the feasible space for such countries to reach net zero earlier. The current generation of models tend to depend strongly on land-use sinks outside of currently developed countries and include fossil fuel use well beyond the time at which these could be phased out, compared to what is understood from bottom-up approaches. The scientific teams which provide these global pathways constantly improve the technologies represented in their models – and novel CDR technologies are now being included in new studies focused on deep mitigation scenarios meeting the Paris Agreement. A wide assessment database of these new scenarios is not yet available; thus, we rely on available scenarios which focus particularly on BECCS as a net-negative emission technology. Accordingly, we do not yet consider land-sector emissions (LULUCF) and other CDR approaches which developed countries will need to implement in order to counterbalance their remaining emissions and reach net zero GHG are not considered here due to data availability.

Neither Japan’s announced NDC update, nor current NDC, are in line with a 1.5°C domestic emissions pathway, which would require a rapid decline in domestic GHG emissions (excluding LULUCF), reaching about 60-73% below 2013 levels by 2030, equivalent to around 387-567 MtCO2e/yr by 2030 (or 56-70% below 2010 levels).2,27

A fair share contribution to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions compatible with the Paris Agreement would require Japan to go further than its domestic target, and provide substantial support for emission reductions to developing countries. Japan’s fair share as assessed by the Climate Action Tracker (domestic and international support) would require the country to finance or provide support for mitigation abroad equivalent to domestic emissions reductions on top of its domestic reductions.

In its long-term strategy under the Paris Agreement, Japan committed to an 80% emissions reduction by 2050, albeit with an uncertain baseline. In October 2020, the Prime Minister announced that Japan aims to reach net zero GHG emissions and carbon neutrality by 2050.1 So far no further details have been provided on the net zero goal.

Our analysis shows that for Japan to be 1.5°C compatible, it would need to reach emissions reductions of 95-100% below 2013 levels (or 94-100% below 2010 levels) by 2050 when excluding the role of LULUCF.28 Japan will then need to balance its remaining GHG emissions to a level of around 29 MtCO2e/yr by 2050 by deploying carbon dioxide approaches such as land sinks or other technological options.

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Key messages

For Japan to realise a 1.5°C compatible pathway, it is critical that the country decarbonise its power sector and at the same time, electrify end-use sectors.

A paradigm shift in the power sector to a 51-84% share of renewables by 2030 could catalyse a transition to a 1.5°C emissions pathway. A share of at least 60% would need to be aimed at in order to avoid reliance on nuclear energy nor fossil fuels with CCS

Under 1.5°C compatible pathways, coal, which accounted for 34% of Japan’s power generation in 2017, would need to be phased out from around 2031. This means any coal plant built now risks becoming a stranded asset within a decade. Gas, which accounted for 39% of generation in 2017, would need to be phased out in 2038, and the power sector would need to reach net zero emissions intensity by 2040.

In addition to energy efficiency measures, technologies most readily available to Japan to facilitate this acceleration are solar PV on buildings and offshore wind, paired with geothermal and hydropower. Paired with electrification, e.g. in transport, as envisaged by regulations now in preparation, this decarbonisation in the power sector will drive emissions reductions across large sections of the economy.

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Key power sector benchmarks

Renewables shares and year of zero emissions power Including the use of BECCS

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Current targets
Required targets
2030
  1. 2030 22 to 24% Renewable share
  1. 2030 51 to 84% Renewable share
2040
  1. 2040-2043 Zero emissions power
2050
  1. 2050 65 to 97% Renewable share

Footnotes