Photo/IllutrationProtesters hold up signs outside of the venue for the United Nations conference on climate change held in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The government's long-term strategy for dealing with harmful climate change has little chance of winning broad public support because it is being plotted behind closed doors through the traditional opaque process of harmonizing conflicting interests.

The strategy is being mapped out to achieve a policy target of reducing Japan's greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The government’s draft of the plan presented recently to a joint council of experts for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Environment Ministry clearly reflects the interests of major industrial sectors, including the steel and power industries.

The blueprint leaves no doubt that Japan will remain dependent on nuclear power for years to come while keeping the door open to coal-fired power generation.

On the other hand, it adopts a cautious stance toward any measure based on the idea of carbon pricing, such as a carbon tax and emissions trading.

While it does not include bold measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that can be taken now, the strategy shows excessive hopes for future technological progress.

It is far from a convincing plan to build a post-carbon society.

The Abe administration plans to endorse the strategy as its formal policy agenda for achieving greenhouse gas emissions targets and present it to the United Nations in hopes of leading debate on the issue at the Group of 20 summit to be held in Osaka in June.

The action plan is unlikely to provide an opportunity for Japan to take the leadership role in international debate on climate change at the summit because it is chairing the conference.

The draft strategy is based on the proposals made by a group of experts in early April. Oddly, it takes a very positive stance toward nuclear power generation, a factor that did not figure in proposals by experts, who called for more public debate on continued use of atomic energy while recognizing it as a viable technological option.

The draft strategy casts nuclear power generation as a practical technological option for the decarbonization efforts and calls for promoting the reactivation of offline reactors and stable use of this energy source.

The blueprint also shows a strong commitment to the future development of new reactor technologies, urging policy efforts to develop safer and more economical and maneuverable reactors.

In addition to small-sized and high-temperature gas cooled reactors, the document even refers to fast reactors, despite the failure of the costly Monju fast-breeder reactor project.

Nuclear power generation is fraught with risks and thorny problems, including the potentially disastrous damage a serious accident could cause as well as the disposal of radioactive waste.

Nuclear energy is also losing its economic viability. It is a power source that should be phased out through the decommissioning of aging reactors.

There is no chance that nuclear power generation will play the leading role in the international fight against global warming.

Despite all these downsides, the administration decided at the last moment to include the proposals concerning nuclear power into the draft strategy. It has offered no explanation for this.

There has also been a dubious move concerning coal-fired power generation. When the expert proposals were formulated, a call for terminating coal-fired power generation included in the chairman’s draft was dropped at a closed-door meeting in the face of strong opposition from the industrial sector.

There are diverse views and opinions on how to tackle the challenge of climate change. Finding a solution that satisfies everybody is basically impossible.

That makes it all the more important to develop a long-term strategy for pushing the nation toward a carbon-free future through open, above-board discussions and a transparent consensus building process.

If the ministries and agencies concerned and the industries involved remain fixated on their short-term parochial interests, it is simply impossible to lay out a viable and effective vision for a cleaner future.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 27