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In brief

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

Economy wide

Japan’s updated NDC, released in October 2021, targets emissions reductions of 46% below 2013 levels by 2030, including contributions from LULUCF sinks. Excluding LULUCF, the NDC target would be 42% below 2013 levels, resulting in an emissions level of 814 MtCO₂e/yr in 2030. Japan’s updated NDC is a welcome improvement from the previous target (26% below 2013 level), but it is not yet in line with a 1.5°C domestic emissions pathway. A 1.5°C compatible pathway for Japan would require a rapid decline in domestic GHG emissions of about 60-72% below 2013 levels by 2030 (excluding LULUCF), resulting in an emissions level between 391-556 MtCO₂e/yr by 2030.37

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

Fair share

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 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.

Net zero GHG

In its long-term strategy under the Paris Agreement, released in October 2021, Japan committed to reaching net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. The strategy links the 46% reduction target of its 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.

2050 Ambition

Our analysis shows that for Japan to be 1.5°C compatible, the country would need to reduce emissions 94-104% below 2013 levels by 2050, excluding the role of LULUCF. Japan would then need to balance its remaining GHG emissions in 2050 (around 44 MtCO₂e/yr) by deploying carbon dioxide reduction (CDR) approaches such as land sinks or uncertain technological options.

Sectors

Power

  • 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 51-82% share of renewables by 2030 could catalyse a transition to a 1.5°C emissions pathway. A share of at least 60% would be needed in order to avoid reliance on nuclear energy or fossil fuels with CCS.1
  • Under 1.5°C compatible pathways, coal, which accounted for 33% of Japan’s power generation in 2019, would be phased out from around 2030. This means any coal plant built now risks becoming a stranded asset within a decade. Gas, which accounted for 39% of generation in 2019, would be phased out between 2038-40, and the power sector would reach full decarbonisation between 2040-43.
  • Japan could achieve a fully decarbonised power system based on renewable energy and storage technologies. The 100% renewable energy pathway modelled here has non-bio renewables share in power generation increasing from 16% (2019 levels) to 81% by 2030 and nearly 100% by 2050.
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Buildings

  • Direct CO₂ emissions of Japan’s building sector have been declining since 2002. Decreasing oil consumption has been the main driver of the emissions reductions occurring since 2005.
  • The 1.5°C compatible pathways have direct CO₂ emissions form the building sector falling by 34-48% from 2019 levels by 2030 and reaching close to full decarbonisation between 2040-2052.
  • Electricity’s share of final energy in the sector increases from 53% in 2019 to 66-69% by 2030 and 88-89% by 2050, and this is would be concurrent with the rapid increase of renewables in the power sector described above.
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Transport

  • Japan’s transportation sector relies almost entirely on oil to meet energy demand (97%). The sector is therefore the least diversified in terms of energy mix and consequently has the greatest reliance (relative to total consumption) on imported fossil fuels.
  • At present, Japan is one of three countries with a target for 100% electrified vehicles in new car sales. The country aims to meet this target by 2035.
  • By 2050, Japan aims to reduce GHG emissions by 80% (compared to 2010 levels) per vehicle in the domestic automotive industry.
  • The 1.5°C pathways show electricity’s share in the sector increasing from 2% in 2019 to 12-25% by 2030 and 45-71% by 2050. Hydrogen and biofuels also see a significant ramp-up. Fuel switching leads to direct CO₂ emissions of the sector falling by 42-55% by 2030 and 92-94% by 2050. Direct CO₂ emissions of energy demand in the transport sector reach zero emissions 2053-2057.
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Industry

  • The industrial sector (secondary industry) accounts for around a quarter of Japan’s GDP and around 29% of total final energy consumption. Given the country’s low level of energy self-sufficiency (9.6% in 2017) and high level of fossil fuel use in industry (71%), this sector represents a challenge both in terms of decarbonisation and energy security.
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways show around 3% annual emissions reduction out to 2025, increasing to around 6% afterwards and until 2040. Under the pathways, emissions of industrial energy demand would reach full decarbonisation between 2048-50.
  • This would necessitate an increase in the use of electricity, hydrogen, and biomass. The share of these energy sources in industrial final energy would increase from 39% in 2019 to 43-51% by 2030, and 65-95% by 2050. A renewable energy-based power sector would provide the majority of industrial final energy by around 2040.
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Footnotes