A turning point for Japan-United States climate cooperation? – The diplomat


In his first press conference as Prime Minister designate of Japan, Kishida Fumio notably failed to mention climate change, let alone define a strategy to combat it. Japan’s position in international climate policy receives considerably less attention than that of the United States, the EU or China. But as the world’s third-largest economy and fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Japan’s actions are of great importance in the global fight against climate change.

To understand Japan’s climate policy, one must first understand that it is closely related to the climate policy of the United States. As we know from seminal publications On Japan’s climate policy, the US withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 gave rise to a powerful rhetoric in Japan that climate action without US involvement would be detrimental to the Japanese economy. For many years this has resulted in soft climate policies labeled “very insufficientBy the climate policy watchdog Climate Action Tracker.

United States climate policy under President George W. Bush provided an excuse for Japanese inaction, as policymakers, when criticized, could always respond that the United States was even further behind. While the Obama administration intended to exercise leadership in international climate policy, it refrained from seriously pressuring Japan to adopt more ambitious climate goals. Needless to say, there was also no pressure under the environmentally destructive Trump administration.

This is important because Japan’s foreign policy is notoriously receptive to American pressure. So much so, in fact, that there is a Japanese word for such pressure from Washington: beiatsu. Due to Japan’s historic dependence on US military protection, policymakers in Tokyo are extremely sensitive to US demands and interests. For political scientists, therefore, it is almost unthinkable to attempt to explain Japanese foreign policy without taking into account the role of American pressure. The lack of US pressure to date has made it easy for Japan to tackle climate change with little urgency.

Hopes for a more proactive Japanese climate policy were also dashed by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011. In response to the disaster and public outrage over the lack of nuclear security, the government chose to shut down nuclear facilities. Japan nuclear power plants. Like the government is fighting to restart nuclear power plants, he turned to other sources to meet his energy needs. While some progress on renewable energies has been produced since 2011, increasing from 9.5% to 18% of total electricity production between 2010 and 2019, Japan remains heavily dependent on coal, by far the dirtiest fossil fuel. In 2019, coal represented up to 32 percent of Japan’s energy mix. A decade after the nuclear accident, it is high time that Japan readjusted its energy and climate policy.

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One thing is different in 2021, and it could become a deciding factor: the willingness of the Biden administration to put pressure on other countries to tackle the climate crisis. In a analysis of Japan’s discourse on climate change, we found that former Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide never spoke about climate change in Japanese parliamentary debates during the Trump presidency, but, anticipating pressure from the new Biden administration, he began to discuss climate change as an issue on which Japan and the United States should cooperate. .

Suga’s premonitions about American pressure turned out to be justified. At their first face-to-face meeting in the United States in April this year, Biden called on Japan to set a concrete and ambitious emissions reduction target for 2030 to add substance to the 2050 carbon neutrality goal that the Suga government announced in 2020. At the Climate Leaders Summit convened by Biden shortly thereafter, Suga announced that by 2030, Japan would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. at least 46 percent, targeting 50 percent, compared to 2013 levels. To achieve this, the Japanese government recently raised its renewable energy targets by 22-24 to 36-38 percent by 2030. These targets marked late improvements from the lackluster targets that Japan had initially announced under the Paris Agreement in 2015. As a result, Climate Action Tracker has improved Japan’s climate policy by “ very insufficient “to just” “insufficient. “

The reason Tokyo’s climate policy assessment has not improved further, despite some positive developments, is Japan’s continued support for coal. The Japanese government still plans to produce 19% of its electricity from coal by 2030. While the government decided last year to shut down around 100 older and inefficient coal-fired power plants by 2030 and plans for new coal-fired power plants were scrapped, factories currently under construction will be completed. This means that Japan is unlikely to phase out coal anytime soon.

In April, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said these countries continue to rely on coal and invest in coal-fired power plants “”will hear from the United States. “In fact, since Biden took office, the United States has pressured Japan to stop funding overseas coal-fired power projects. we interviewed, this has mostly happened behind the scenes, which means that US pressure on Japanese coal policy has been much less open than its pressure on Japanese emissions targets.

While Suga’s announcement at the G-7 meeting in June that Japan end subsidies for overseas coal-fired power projects should be welcomed, it comes with an important caveat: Japan will not end projects already underway and the announcement may not apply to what Japanese officials call high-powered coal-fired power plants. yield. The latter simply refers to next-generation coal-fired power plants that burn coal more efficiently, but still emit huge amounts of CO2, leaving a backdoor wide open for the government’s continued support for coal-fired power projects at abroad. Japan remains far from pursuing its coal policy compatible with the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Earlier this year, Biden and Suga promised make “the climate crisis a pillar of the US-Japanese bilateral partnership” and “make the necessary efforts to keep within reach a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming”. There is a window of opportunity for the United States and Japan to live up to their stated ambitions for climate leadership, but it is closing quickly due to the urgency of “widespread, rapid and intensifying“climate crisis. Like Japan, the climate policies of the Biden administration are still seen as”insufficientBy the Climate Action Tracker. Indeed, the most recent E3G Coal Scorecard coal policies in the G-7 countries rank the United States and Japan respectively fifth and seventh. Obviously, both countries have a long way to go.

Less than a month before the UN climate summit in Glasgow in early November, the world will be watching Kishida and Biden’s actions on climate change. Kishida’s blissful ignorance of climate change might not last long, as Biden will be sure to remind her of the promise made by his predecessor. This should include more overt pressure on Japan to stop building and funding coal-fired power plants. Former Prime Minister Suga said that “The United States is Japan’s best friend. “What good are best friends if not to tell you hard truths that need to be told?

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