Japan's emissions target, relying on nuclear, seen as unrealistic

Japan has set an emissions target to be presented to November’s climate summit that critics say is unambitious compared to those of other leading countries and unrealistic because it depends on restoring its nuclear industry in the face of public hostility.

The government is proposing to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent by 2030 from a base year of 2013. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will present this to a G7 meeting in Germany at the weekend where the Paris climate summit is a key agenda item.

“We have come up with a reduction target that is no less ambitious than what other countries are aiming for,” Abe told a cabinet meeting this week, according to a Cabinet Office official.

But the European Union has announced plans to cut emissions by at least 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030, while the United States is proposing a 26 to 28 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2025.

Japan’s target would represent a mere 18 per cent cut from 1990 levels.

Its greenhouse gas emissions in the 2013 base year rose to 1.41 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, just shy of a record set in 2007. That reflects an increase in the use of fossil fuels for power generation after the shutdown of the country’s 43 nuclear reactors following the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

The target for emission cuts is based on a proposed power generation mix for 2030 that has nuclear energy accounting for 20 to 22 per cent, with renewable energy making up 22 to 24 per cent and fossil fuels making up the rest.

Yet stringent safety checks and the need for local authority approval mean the outlook for rebooting the nuclear industry remains uncertain. One reactor is earmarked for reopening in August.

“The energy mix is based upon restarting nuclear in a substantive way, which looks unlikely in view of public opposition,” said Mutsuyoshi Nishimura, a former climate ambassador for Japan.

The shutdown of reactors has pushed coal and LNG consumption to record highs and Japan is ramping up construction of coal- and gas-fired plants. Under the government plans, coal will account for 26 per cent of power generation in 2030, up from 24 per cent before Fukushima.

Power from renewable sources at 22 to 24 per cent would be up from 11 per cent before Fukushima and 10.7 percent in fiscal 2013/14.

“By relying on a fantasy nuclear energy mix rather than setting ambitious renewable and energy-efficiency targets, Japan will fail to meet even the low-bar CO2 reduction goals that Abe announced,” environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement.

A Reuters survey last week showed that companies were also sceptical about the government’s nuclear target.

Kimiko Hirata, international director at non-profit organisation Kiko Network and a regular at climate change conferences, said industry should be asked to take further action to cut emissions.

“I would imagine that Abe will face serious pressure at G7 that will force him to reconsider,” she added. 

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