Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers his policy speech in the Lower House at the opening of the ordinary Diet session on Jan. 20. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The growing global crisis posed by climate change allows no excuses for ignoring pressing tasks.

In that context, let us examine the government’s “Kakushinteki Kankyo Innovation Senryaku” (radical environmental innovation strategy) that was formulated for mid- to long-term reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in keeping with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explained in his policy speech that this new strategy entails establishing an international research base in Japan, where new carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction technologies will be developed in collaboration with other advanced nations. And through such innovations, Abe noted, Japan will strive to become a decarbonized society.

The Paris Agreement’s goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature since the Industrial Revolution to 1.5 degrees. For that, greenhouse gas emissions must be brought down to zero by 2050.

But since that goal will be unattainable unless every imaginable effort is made, Japan certainly should pursue this new strategy for technological innovation.

That said, however, it must be borne in mind that the outcome will depend on how much emission reduction can be achieved in the next 10 years. Scientifically, reaching the “zero by 2050” goal is deemed practically impossible unless the reduction level is 45 percent in 2030.

The increase in global average temperature has already exceeded 1 degree, and extreme weather events and natural disasters are occurring around the world.

We cannot overcome the current climate crisis if we keep pinning our hopes on technological innovations of unsubstantiated efficacy and ignore the urgent issues at hand.

Japan, in particular, must swiftly abandon coal and aim for greater reliance on renewable energy.

But while a growing number of nations--mainly European--are committing to go coal-free during the 2020s and 2030s, the Abe administration is still keeping its policy of “relying on coal for 26 percent of the nation’s power sources in fiscal 2030.”

Under this policy, Japan has new construction plans for about 20 coal-fired thermal power plants around the nation, and it is also continuing to export them to Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

To keep building such power plants for years to come and generating twice more CO2 than with natural gases is nothing short of anachronistic in this day and age that calls for the toughest efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The government must promptly go ahead with a major policy change to become coal-free and consider a specific plan with a definitive target year. At the same time, the government must also introduce a carbon pricing system, such as a carbon tax and a carbon emissions trading system, to increase costs for carbon and urge utilities to end coal-fired power generation.

If these are done in tandem with greater use of low-carbon energy sources, such as solar and wind power, Japan should be able to secure its electricity needs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Japan’s commitment to fighting the climate crisis with innovative technologies for carbon neutrality will remain seriously suspect if the nation keeps burning coal.

The Abe administration’s crisis awareness is being questioned.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 29