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….

Japanese (non)decision on nuclear phase-out

Earthquake in Japan on March 11th, 2011

Earthquake in Japan on March 11th, 2011

It seems there has been some confusion around the Japanese decision (or non-decision) on the phase-out of nuclear last week.

Let me explain the story chronologically and give a few remarks related to climate policies.

I have to say at the beginning that the situation is very murky even to Japanese.

Energy and Environment Council

On 14th of September, the body called Energy and Environment Council was convened.  This is a governmental body which has been discussing energy strategies for the last one year or so.  The body is chaired by Minister of State for National Policy (Mr. Furukawa) and participated by other relevant ministers including Minister of the Environment and Minister of Trade, Economy and Industry (METI) but, this particular time, it was also joined by Prime Minister Noda, too.

The meeting adopted the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment.  The Strategy is the one which says Japan will phaseout nuclear in 2030s.

Although the English version has not been yet uploaded, it will probably be uploaded to the following National Policy Unit’s website some time in the future:

Highlights of the Strategy are the following:

  • it “aims at realizing a society not dependent on nuclear” and says the government will “exert all policy resources for making it possible to stop the operation of all nuclear power plants before 2040 (in 2030s)”
  • it has lowered climate target for 2020, which is now 5-9% reduction below 1990 by 2020; this figure does not include sinks and offsets and nor is final.  However, it is almost certain that the target will be significantly lowered from the current 25% reduction target
  • RES electricity target of 300 TWh in 2030 (equivalent to 30% share of electricity generation in 2030)
  • For energy efficiency, it says Japan will reduce electricity consumption by 10% below 2010 by 2030 and will also reduce final energy consumption by 19% below 2010 by 2030.

Usually, this kind of joint ministerial level meeting’s decision is later adopted by the entire Cabinet and formalized as an administration’s official policy.

That was exactly what was supposed to happen on 19th of September and yet it didn’t go down that way.

An ambivalent cabinet decision

Due to the strong opposition from industry associations (three major associations held joint press conference to oppose the phase out on the day before the cabinet meeting), labor union groups (which happen to be the major constituencies for the current ruling party) and a few local governments which have been accepting nuclear (and subsides) as well as “interest” and “concern” shown by United States, the Prime Minister and some core ministers apparently decided to make the status of the document a bit more vague.

What happened was that the Cabinet did not adopt the Strategy per se.  Instead, it adopted a rather shorter statement which basically says the government “will implement the Strategy with continuous consideration and review” and annexed the Strategy to the statement.  This is something like “taking note” (I know this is a taboo for those who experienced Copenhagen) in a sense that the Strategy was not adopted by the entire cabinet but it was recognized by it.

This is very vague and is very hard to understand even to Japanese.

While the government and the relevant ministries at least will have some authorities to implement policies that lead to phasing out nuclear, the level of determination by the government to phase out nuclear got certainly weakened.  I believe what’s going to happen is that the government will pursue this very vague line further and keep things unclear so that they don’t invite ultimate rejection from both sides.

A few journalists said that the form of the decision made today was already planned as of last Friday, not because of the opposition from those stakeholders but I’m not sure what is the truth.

Besides, if the current ruling party, Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) loses in the next election, the policy direction is likely to be changed as none of the next leader candidate for the major opposition party (Liberal Democratic Party) does not support the phase out at the moment.

You can certainly say this is one step further back from phasing out nuclear but it is not the complete withdrawal either.

Hope this clarifies the situation as much as it can….

A few remarks on the Strategy itself

  • I have grave concern about the lowered climate target given the fact that we are now talking about the huge “gap” at international level.
  • energy efficiency target should be higher; final energy consumption should be reduced by 30% below 2010 by 2030
  • although renewable target is higher than one in the current Basic Plan on Energy (20% of all electricity in 2030), it should be at least more than 35% (which is the highest figure that appeared in the government’s discussion process leading up to this Strategy decision)
  • further shift from coal and oil to gas should be assumed
  • more ambitious energy efficiency target, renewable target and gas shift could have kept the climate target higher than the indicated range.
  • it is good that the government finally indicated the direction towards phasing out all the nuclear power plants; however, the way it is described in the Strategy leaves some room for interpretation.  It should be “fixed” by, for example, legalizing the direction by revising the existing Basic Law on Nuclear or creating a new law.