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Japan Ambition gap

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

1.5°C compatible pathways

Japan’s NDC sets an emission reduction target of 46% below 2013 by 2030, excluding emissions from LULUCF in the base year, but including them in the target year. When expressed as excluding LULUCF in both years, this is equivalent to a 42% reduction. In absolute terms, this corresponds to emissions of around 814 MtCO₂e/yr in 2030, excluding LULUCF.

While the announced target is a step forward, 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 60-72% below 2013 levels by 2030, equivalent to around 391-556 MtCO₂e/yr by 2030.1,37

A fair share contribution to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions compatible with the Paris Agreement would require Japan to go further than its domestic emissions reduction target, and provide substantial financial or 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.1

Long term pathway

In its long-term strategy under the Paris Agreement, released in October 2021, Japan committed to reaching net zero GHG emissions by 2050. The document links the 46% reduction target of the country’s NDC with the long-term goal and states that the country will make additional efforts to reach a 50% emissions reduction below 2013 levels by 2030.2 Both the 2030 and 2050 targets include contributions from LULUCF sinks.

A 1.5°C compatible pathway would require that Japan accelerate GHG emissions reductions which began in 2013 to reduce domestic emissions (i.e., excluding LULUCF) by 60-72% below 2013 levels by 2030.46 Reductions of 94-104% below 2013 levels would be needed by 2050.47

The energy sector will be a key focus in achieving net zero, and particularly the development of offshore wind, green hydrogen fuel, and the decarbonisation of transport and buildings. Strategies for these key areas have been outlined in Japan’s recent Green Growth Strategy.15

1 Climate Action Tracker. 1.5°C-consistent benchmarks for enhancing Japan’s 2030 climate target. (2021).

2 The Government of Japan. The Long-term Strategy under the Paris Agreement. (2021).

3 Climate Action Tracker. Japan. CAT September 2021 Update. (2021).

4 Climate Transparency. Japan – Climate Transparency Report 2021. (2021).

5 IEA. Gas 2020. (2020).

6 World Bank. State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2021. (2021) doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1728-1.

7 Climate Analytics & Renewable Energy Institute. 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. (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 IEA. World Energy Balances 2019. (2021).

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

15 The Government of Japan. Green Growth Strategy Through Achieving Carbon Neutrality in 2050. (2020).

16 IEA. Japan 2021 – Energy Policy Review. Int. Energy Agency (2021).

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

18 Government of Japan. Japan’s Nationally Determined Contribution. (2021).

19 METI. Outline of Strategic Energy Plan (6th Strategic Energy Plan). (2021).

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

21 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).

22 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.

23 IEA. Offshore Wind Outlook 2019.(2019).

24 Statistics Bureau of Japan. Statistical Handbook Japan 2021. (2021).

25 IEA. Global EV Outlook 2021. (2021).

26 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).

27 U.S. Energy Information Administration. Country Analysis Executive Summary: Japan. (2020).

28 Kojima, S. & Asakawa, K. Expectations for Carbon Pricing in Japan in the Global Climate Policy Context. in Carbon Pricing in Japan (eds. Arimura, T. H. & Matsumoto, S.) (Springer, 2021). doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-6964-7_1.

29 METI. Japan’s 5th Strategic Energy Plan (provisional translation). (2018).

30 Esteban, M., Zhang, Q. & Utama, A. Estimation of the energy storage requirement of a future 100% renewable energy system in Japan. Energy Policy 47, 22–31 (2012).

31 Esteban, M. et al. 100% renewable energy system in Japan: Smoothening and ancillary services. Appl. Energy 224, 698–707 (2018).

32 Cheng, C., Blakers, A., Stocks, M. & Lu, B. 100% renewable energy in Japan. Energy Convers. Manag. 255, 115299 (2022).

33 Kimura, O. Japanese Top Runner Approach for energy efficiency standards. (2010)..

34 Inoue, N. & Matsumoto, S. An examination of losses in energy savings after the Japanese Top Runner Program. Energy Policy 124, 312–319 (2019).

35 IEA. Act on the rational use of energy (Energy Efficiency Act). (2017).

36 METI. 2019 – Understanding the current energy situation in Japan (Part 1). (2019).

37 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 (60-72% 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.

38 While Japan’s emissions intensity and energy intensity of GDP have decreased significantly over the last three decades, this has been due to energy efficiency improvements rather than a reduction in fossil fuel share in TPES.26 Indeed, coal’s share in primary energy grew by over 50% since 1990. Please see the Climate Action Tracker’s Data Portal for further details.

39 The transport and industrial sectors accounted for 38% and 24%, respectively, of oil consumption in 2018. Use in the power sector has declined significantly since 2013.27

40 The 2-3 USD/tCO₂ value refers to Japan’s carbon tax. The country also levies a fuel excise tax and has two regional emissions trading systems, in Japan and Saitama The current ETS prices are around 5 USD/tCO₂.6 Accounting for all carbon pricing instruments, the average effective rate has been estimated to be around 39 USD/tCO₂.28

41 According to Japan Beyond Coal, as of January 2022 japan has 51 GW of coal-fired power plants in operation (0.6 GW mothballed) and another 6 GW of capacity under development (the majority of this under construction with a small amount in planning phase).

42 Note that Japan’s recent Green Growth Strategy also has nuclear playing a significant role in a future decarbonised power sector.15

43 Note that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry provides 2030 projections for both total primary energy supply and final energy consumption (350 million kilolitres).

44 Fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (CCS) are a significant component of TPES in some 1.5°C compatible pathways, particularly after 2030. The median of these pathways has fossil fuels with CCS accounting for 29% of TPES in 2050, greater than the 17% share for unabated fossil fuels.

45 The low energy demand 1.5°C compatible pathway has TPES in 2050 at around 5 EJ. Japan’s energy consumption has been decreasing fairly steadily since reaching a peak in 2005 and recent reporting had projected a further decline in the coming years, both due to demographic changes and efficiency improvements.27,29 Projections from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry have TPES decreasing from 509 million kilolitres of oil equivalent (kl) in 2018 to 489 million kl by 2030.

46 This would translate to a compound annual rate of reduction between 7-10% compared to the rate of reduction of 2.5% seen between 2013 and 2019.

47 The upper value in the range implies negative emissions which could result from the use of carbon dioxide removal technologies such as BECCS. At the 25th percentile, the 1.5°C compatible pathways show that around 44 MtCO₂e/yr of GHG emissions would need to be balanced out by 2050. Although the long-term strategy does not give an exact value for the anticipated level of removals from forest carbon sinks and other carbon dioxide removal technologies in 2050, the document does provide an estimate of net carbon removals in 2019 (45.9 MtCO₂).2 This seems to be in line with the projected 2030 GHG removals stated in the updated NDC (47.7 MtCO₂).18

48 Values are for 2019. Renewables include wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and biofuels.

49 The government has stated that it will pursue nuclear power options as part of their Green Growth Strategy. Specifically, it will support efforts to develop small module reactors, hydrogen production by high-temperature gas-cooled reactors, and fusion energy. The government aims to commercialise the former two technologies by 2030.15

50 Please see the International Energy Agency’s Japan webpage for details.

51 Some pathways assume much lower renewables shares (as low as a third in 2050) instead relying on fossil and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, starting in the 2020s and reaching as much as 65% of the power sector by 2060. Given the significant costs and lead times required for CCS, it is unclear how such fast deployment could be achieved. The same pathways also all assume a return to nuclear power, reaching shares of 30% and absolute values well above pre-Fukushima levels

52 Other recent studies have also modelled viable pathways to a 100% renewable power sector for Japan and explored the implications for storage, ancillary services, and price.3032

53 Regression analysis of changes in emissions on changes in the use of various energy sources (liquid fuels, gaseous fuels, electricity) over the period 1990 – 2019 shows that changes in emissions were most highly correlated with changes in liquid fuels (oil) consumption. Changes in emissions were also correlated, albeit less so, with changes in gaseous fuels (natural gas) use. For both of these fuels, the correlation with emissions was found to be positive.

54 Efficiency standards for several electrical home appliances were introduced in 1999 while further standards, including for gas stoves and heaters, were introduced in 2002. These standards were set so that full enactment would occur 4 to 6 years after introduction. Thus, for most household appliances, full enactment of energy efficiency standards took place between 2003 and 2010.33 A recent study has shown that the top runner programme has led to a rebound effect whereby greater household consumption negates the energy efficiency gains.34 This effect is consistent with the rising consumption of electricity in the building sector and may explain the levelling out of emissions intensity levels from 2010 onwards.

55 In 2018, Japan’s industrial sector consumed 116 Mtoe including non-energy use (34 Mtoe). Oil accounted for 43% of the total, with coal and natural gas making up 18% and 10% respectively. Electricity accounted for 25% of consumption and biofuels 3%. The majority of industrial fuel consumption was due to the chemical and petrochemical industries (43% in 2018).16 With regards to GDP, here we use the term secondary industry to refer to mining, manufacturing, and construction, as per the Statistical Handbook of Japan.24 Value is current as of 2019. See table 3.3 therein.

56 Japan’s push for energy efficiency improvements began as a response to the two oil crises of the 1970s, as exemplified by the Energy Efficiency Act enacted in 1979. The Act has been updated with major revisions since then, such as the introduction of the aforementioned Top Runner Program in 1998. The latest revision to the Act occurred in 2018.35

57 The consumption of electricity decreased after by around 20% between 2006 and 2008 due to the Global Financial Crisis and has yet to recover.

58 This average reduction takes into account the significant declines which occurred during the Asian (1997) and Global (2007-08) Financial Crises.

59 The buildings and industry sectors have a greater overall energy demand and thus a greater absolute reliance on imported fossil fuels. This takes into account both direct fuel use and electricity consumption (indirect use). Note that in 2018, Japan’s import dependency for crude oil, LNG, and coal was 99.7%, 97.5%, and 99.3% respectively.36

60 The 5th Strategic Energy Plan put forth a goal of a 50.3 million kilolitre (42.8 Mtoe) reduction in energy demand by 2030. This would be achieved through reductions in the industry, transport, commercial, and residential sectors of 10.42, 16.07, 12.26, and 11.6 million kilolitres respectively.16

61 The other two countries, China and the UK, aim to meet their targets by 2035 and 2030 respectively.

Methodology

Japanʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

Displayed values
Reference year
−120%−100%−80%−60%−40%−20%0%19902010203020502070
Net zero GHG excl. LULUCF*
2066
Reference year
2013
1.5°C emissions level
−66%
NDC
−42%
Ambition gap
−24%
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
2030 emissions levels
Current policy projections
NDC
1.5°C emissions level
Ref. year 2013
1 406MtCO₂e/yr

Energy system transformation

The energy sector, including power, industry and transport, will need to contribute the largest emissions reductions to bring Japan in line with a 1.5°C compatible pathway. Fossil fuel use will need to contract from 90% share of primary energy (2019 levels) to less than two-thirds by 2030, and below a fifth in 2050.44

Some 1.5°C compatible pathways have relatively high shares of fossil fuels with CCS in TPES (around a third of TPES by 2050) while other pathways, which do not rely on CCS, show a transition with a greater share of renewables, reaching a 53% share in 2050. Recent studies have pointed out difficulties in both deploying CCS and increasing renewable energy shares in Japan’s energy mix and suggest that energy efficiency measures and zero emissions technologies will likely be necessary for the country to realise full decarbonisation.21,22 CCS is as of yet an unproven technology with uncertain mitigation potential at the scale required by 1.5°C compatible pathways (both in Japan and globally). Renewable energy technologies, such as wind and green hydrogen, are a more cost-efficient option with added economic co-benefits.1,16

All of the analysed 1.5°C compatible pathways have TPES decreasing rapidly between now and 2030 and most reach a level of around 12 EJ in 2050 (down from around 17 EJ in 2019).45

Methodology

Japanʼs primary energy mix

petajoule per year

Scaling
SSP1 Low CDR reliance
201920302040205010 00015 000
SSP1 High CDR reliance
201920302040205010 00015 000
Low Energy Demand
201920302040205010 00015 000
High Energy Demand - Low CDR reliance
201920302040205010 00015 000
  • Unabated fossil
  • Nuclear and/or fossil with CCS
  • Renewables incl. Biomass
  • Negative emissions technologies via BECCS

Japanʼs total CO₂ emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂/yr

05001 00019902010203020502070
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Historical emissions

1.5°C compatible emissions benchmarks

Key emissions benchmarks of Paris compatible Pathways for Japan. The 1.5°C compatible range is based on the Paris Agreement compatible pathways from the IPCC SR1.5 filtered with sustainability criteria. The median (50th percentile) to 5th percentile and middle of the range are provided here. Relative reductions are provided based on the reference year.

Reference year
Indicator
2013
Reference year
2019
2030
2040
2050
Year of net zero GHG
incl. BECCS excl. LULUCF and novel CDR
Total GHG
Megatonnes CO₂ equivalent per year
1 406
1 209
475
391 to 556
142
59 to 234
44
−51 to 83
2066
2047
Relative to reference year in %
−66%
−72 to −60%
−90%
−96 to −83%
−97%
−104 to −94%
Total CO₂
MtCO₂/yr
1 312
1 103
455
344 to 525
142
24 to 204
10
−66 to 66
2056
2044 to 2063
Relative to reference year in %
−65%
−74 to −60%
−89%
−98 to −84%
−99%
−105 to −95%

Footnotes