Japanese new government is set to revise the climate target

1. The instruction has been given

So, now it’s official.

Prime Minister Abe instructed on Friday(25 January 2013) Environment Minister and other relevant ministers to revise the existing mid-term target for climate action from the scratch in time for COP19 scheduled in November.

The existing mid-term target is to reduce GHG emissions by 25% below 1990 before 2020. The target was one of the big changes that the former DPJ government made after they took the administration in 2009. It had been also considered relatively “ambitious” target among developed countries.

However, LDP had criticized it as “unrealistic” even before the earthquake and Fukushima disaster. After the massive victory of LDP against DPJ in the last December election, it was just matter of time until the new government would revise the target.

2. So, what is it gonna be?

Although it is still too early to tell what would be the likely target, there are a few things that we can base our thinking on.

Before the regime change (from LDP to DPJ) in 2009, the LDP government’s official pledge was 15% reduction below the 2005 level by 2020. This pledge was made under Prime Minister Aso’s term back in 2009. The old target is 8% below the 1990 level by 2020 if you convert it from the 2005 base year to the 1990 base year. Please see then PM Aso’s speech below for the details. Please note this figure does not assume offset credits.

After DPJ took the government, raising the target to the “25%” was one of the first things that the new government did.

I believe LDP’s starting point of the discussion is this old target.

3. A big question: Nuclear

However, one important, difficult factor is of course nuclear, which would affect the climate target. Back in 2009, LDP’s assumption behind their target was to build 9 more new nuclear power plants by 2020, which would have resulted in 40-45% share in total electricity mix in 2020.

Building this many of nuclear power plants by 2020 would be unrealistic even under LDP’s pro-nuclear stance now. As you might now, the DPJ’s government has been conducting the review of energy strategy after the earthquake. When they presented the so-called the three options for the strategy last summer (see below), the nuclear shares ranged from 0% to 25% in 2030.

DPJ’s Energy and Environmental Council ended up deciding to phase out nuclear “during 2030s,” without giving a specific number to the share of nuclear in 2030.

Given PM Abe’s comments on nuclear during the election campaign, his government will revisit the DPJ government’s decision on phasing out.

Unfortunately, I believe now the “phase out” is gone.  But I do not know how much PM Abe’s government would go back ward given the strong skepticism towards nuclear policy by the public.

My current guess is that the nuclear discussion would fall somewhere between 15% and 25% of electricity in 2030. The 15% figure roughly corresponds to the estimated share when they assume the phase out of all the nuclear power plants after 40-year lifetime. The 25% figure assumes some replacement with new nuclear power plants. The LDP at least said that they would reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear as much as possible. If you take the current (before the earthquake) share of 30% as the base line, the 25% would look “less dependent.”

Now, this range of nuclear 15%-25% corresponds to -9 to -10% below 1990 levels by 2020 for the climate target based on the government’s estimates. Those estimates were made under DPJ but those were made by bureaucrats and wound’t change that much, I assume.

The reason why this range looks better than the old 8% despite the lowered nuclear share is difference in assumptions on renewables and energy efficiency improvements.

These (relatively) big renewable assumptions and energy efficiency improvements are not popular among industries, which would have stronger influence on LDP. I have no idea how much these RES and EE assumptions would be lowered in LDP. Even with industry’s pressure, LDP does not want to look less progressive on these two areas.

When do we have the conclusion?

With the current pace of discussion, I’m not sure if our government would bring anything even to the upcoming June session of UNFCCC. PM Abe’s instruction is “by COP19 in November.”

One little hope is that PM Abe himself was interested in climate when he first took the government (see, below). However, the context is totally different now.

However, when he made his General Policy Speech in front of the Diet today (28 January 2013), he didn’t mention “climate” at all. Not even a word. A few media articles explained PM Abe seemed to keep specific topics for his another speech later during this Diet session. Nonetheless, not even a word….