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Japan’s emissions Record high: Where are the renewables?

By April 16, 2015 No Comments

Destruction in Fukushima, 2011


Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, Japan’s CO2 emissions have been steadily rising. In fact, Japan’s greenhouse-gas emissions rose to the second-highest on record last year, as revised government figures showed on Tuesday.

Between 2013 and 2014, emissions  rose 1.2 percent from a year earlier, according to the revised data published by the Ministry of Environment. All in all, this represents a rise of 10.8 percent from 1990.

As of 2015, Japan is placed on the world’s 5th largest carbon dioxide emitter. This, many people would like to explain is simply due to Japan’s new-found reliance on fossil fuels to supplement the nuclear power that has gone offline since the Fukushima tragedy.

However the figures released on Tuesday also revealed that emissions in Japan actually peaked in 2007, just under their current levels.

Nevertheless, Japan is on a negative, carbon intensive growth trajectory that is showing no signs of slowing down.

Taking into account the worldwide call for not only a nuclear, but fossil fuel phase-out, Japan now has the challenge to reduce carbon emission with renewable energy.

Based on the Renewable Energy Network for the 21st. Century ’s 2014 report, renewables contributed 19% to Japan’s  electricity mix in 2013, and the market has been expanding in contrast to the other industry’s downturn.


This is a positive signal that renewable energy could lead to future economic development on a the longer-term perspective.

Large political shifts in investment and research into renewable energy may enure this growth even further.

The current electricity price in Japan is volatility because it relies on unstable prices of imported fossil fuel and natural gas. According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, electricity prices rose by 28.4% since 2011. This occurred even though crude oil prices fell by 34%.

Considering this fact and the ever decreasing price of solar cells and wind turbines, the development of renewable energy industry could offer a much needed ‘light’-ening of the household load across Japan. 

However, Japan continues to invest about 70% of its energy research development fund in nuclear. As it has done so for decades.

The International Energy Agency reported that 69% of energy research fund (About US$ 35 billion) was allocated to nuclear development research in 2010 in Japan, most of which was for the development of  the Monju fast-breeder reactor. Since that time, we have not seen a significant difference.

Future electricity demand is foreseen to decrease as the population ages and fewer babies are born. This may create in fact more opportunities to reduce energy consumption as well.

This may prove be critical for Japan’s ability to transition away from its current trajectory.

According to the Japan Centre for Climate Change Action, office and household emissions have increased by about 50% since 1990, whereas that of industry and transportation has been reduced.

However, the biggest incentive for Japan could be its job growth potential.The renewable energy sector has created thousands of jobs across countries such as in the United States, Spain and Germany. According to Fujitsu, the amount of jobs available in the renewable energy industry in Germany has increased by 225% between 2006 – 2010.

Japan is not so far behind. There has already been significant developments into solar heating, small hydro and geothermal power, though their markets have not yet been properly utilised. In fact, these renewable energies only make up less than 5% of Japan’s energy mix, and thers is significant improvements available. The International Renewable Energy Agency states that there is still a big potential for job creation in Japan across these fields.

This may be just the incentive Japan needs in advance of this year`s UN climate negotiations held in Paris.

In order to ensure future economic development and job creation, Japan needs to clearly lay out a plan to invest heavily in high growth areas that make use of Japan’s renewable energy potential. This is a plan they must outline clearly in their Intended Nationally Determined Commitment before its too late.

Paris is just around the corner. While current indications are that Japan may be backing away from any ambitious plans to combat its growing greenhouse emissions, it is clear that the economic opportunities point to renewable investments.

About Akihiro Yasui

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