Photo/Illutration Turbines on a wind farm in Horonobe, Hokkaido, in 2020 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga last week announced a target of reducing Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions by 46 percent in fiscal 2030 from fiscal 2013 levels.

“Furthermore, Japan will continue strenuous efforts in its challenge to meet the lofty goal of cutting its emissions by 50 percent,” Suga told the Leaders Summit on Climate, hosted by the United States.

Suga rightly pledged before the world to pursue the target, which far exceeds Japan’s previous ones.

But the target is anything but easy to achieve, and Suga has the responsibility to map out a pathway, at an early date, for surmounting the high hurdles it poses.

The summit was convened by the United States, which returned to the Paris Agreement, a framework for measures to contain global warming, under President Joe Biden. The country had withdrawn from the agreement under the previous Trump administration.

To coincide with the gathering, the United States and Britain presented their respective, ambitious goals. The moves follow in the footsteps of the European Union, which had set forth a new goal of its own last year.

China also participated in the summit, demonstrating its willingness to cooperate with Washington on the issue of climate change.

Amid a growing global trend for going carbon-free, Japan drew international criticism last spring, when it submitted to the United Nations a reduction target of 26 percent in fiscal 2030 from fiscal 2013 levels, the same target it had committed to five years earlier.

Attention was focused on how much Japan would raise its fiscal 2030 target after Suga said last October that Japan will reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions, with carbon dioxide absorptions by forests and other means subtracted, to zero by 2050.

It is said that Suga’s target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is a prerequisite for the Paris Agreement’s “preferable” goal of limiting the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels, for lessening the impact of climate change.

Reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide, the key greenhouse gas, in the runup to 2050 is indispensable for achieving that goal.

Japan, the world’s fifth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, should raise its reduction target even further, not the least to prompt moves by other countries, including China, the world’s top emitter.

Japan’s latest target did not come about as a result of repeated discussions. It was a product of political judgment led by Suga.

Nations around the world are speeding up their efforts to restructure their industries and develop technologies for going carbon-free. If left behind in that trend, Japan would lose the competitiveness of its economy.

One could argue Japan was driven into a tight corner and compelled to make the latest decision after the government and industry alike long failed to take effective measures.

There is little time left for Japan to restructure its industries for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, including by expanding the use of renewable energy sources, Suga’s favorite emphasis.

Japan will have to present sector-by-sector targets and gain the understanding of society if it is committed to keeping the rise in global temperatures at 1.5 degrees or lower. Moreover, the country should also work out incentives, such as regulations on emissions, tax reforms and subsidies.

That said, Japan should not turn to nuclear power just because its generation involves no carbon dioxide emissions.

Japanese society has experienced immense damage from a nuclear disaster. Japan should seek to end the use of nuclear power because it comes with an extremely large risk.

Both the industrial circles and the livelihoods of the people would have to accept a major change to help achieve the new target.

The government should explain in earnest why the reduction target should be pursued despite everything and prompt a change for building a new social structure.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 25