THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
October 14, 2021 at 16:55 JST
Pro-nuclear lawmakers now hold key positions under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, sparking concern that he will stray from the prior administration's focus on renewables to help achieve “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
New ministers in charge of Japan’s efforts to fight climate change and energy issues under the Kishida administration have vowed to stick with the net zero target.
“A retreat from the current policy line is out of the question, given the global trend of decarbonizing,” one senior Environment Ministry official said.
In October 2020, then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged to achieve the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 amid fanfare.
He upped the ante in April by announcing that Japan would aim for a 46-percent reduction by 2030 from fiscal 2013 levels in the runup to a session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Japan had previously targeted a 26-percent reduction.
The Suga administration also spelled out the principle of prioritizing renewables such as solar and wind power over all other energy sources in government programs.
“What's important is continuing with the existing policy and we will adhere to it,” said Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, who replaced Shinjiro Koizumi as environment minister, commenting on the net zero emissions and renewables-first targets at an Oct. 5 news conference.
But he also said he was willing to listen to feedback from the electric power industry.
Japan’s major environmental and energy policies of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and decarbonizing electricity grids by using more renewables were specified in the revised law to fight global warming enacted this year, and the new version of the Basic Energy Plan, which is expected to receive Cabinet approval this month.
The new Basic Energy Plan drafted by the Suga administration made no mention of such nuclear power-related projects despite pressure from pro-nuclear lawmakers within the LDP and the nuclear industry.
LDP lawmakers who support nuclear energy are unhappy about the Basic Energy Plan, which said Japan will “reduce its dependence on nuclear energy as much as possible.”
Koichi Hagiuda, who became minister of economy, trade and industry under Kishida, has also indicated that he will follow the current policy.
“We will give top priority to the promotion of renewables and introduce them as much as possible,” he said on Oct. 5. “We do not envisage projects to build nuclear reactors or replace old ones with new ones.”
But concerns have been raised over a possible return to reliance on more nuclear power following pro-nuclear lawmakers assuming key posts in the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Koizumi, who as environment minister pushed for renewable energy, and Taro Kono, who served as minister in charge of administrative reform and is a staunch opponent of nuclear energy, were replaced when Kishida formed his Cabinet.
Koizumi, who is cautious about continued reliance on nuclear energy and a strong advocate of renewables, said the pro-nuclear bloc could try to push back.
“Swinging back will be likely to some extent,” he said at a news conference on Oct. 1.
Despite his vow against new reactor projects, Hagiuda is a close ally of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who serves as the most senior adviser to a group of lawmakers advocating construction of new reactors to replace aged units.
Akira Amari, the new secretary-general of the LDP, the second most powerful post after the party president, Kishida, is the most senior adviser to the group.
Sanae Takaichi, who proposed bolstering development of new technology to build a nuclear fusion reactor during the LDP leadership race last month, landed the position of the party’s policy chief.
With those lawmakers in influential posts, a government official said, “The industry ministry and the LDP will likely exercise more clout in rolling back the energy policy.”
Not surprisingly, the nuclear industry hailed the government and the new party lineup.
“Lawmakers who have shown understanding to the nuclear industry were appointed in many key positions,” said a senior official with a leading power company.
Experts fear the new administration could stall Japan’s efforts to decarbonize its economy with renewables.
The Environment Ministry has called for the full-fledged introduction in taxation reform for fiscal 2022 of the carbon pricing program, which is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by businesses.
But the electric power industry and the industry ministry are cautious about making the move.
Kono had spearheaded the initiative to ease regulations that stood in the way for the spread of renewable energy sources.
With no such driving force in the Kishida Cabinet, it is unclear that regulations will be further relaxed to ramp up renewables.
Kishida apparently does not believe in Japan relying on renewables as a dominant source of energy.
“Renewables are important sources of energy, but is it wise to rely on them alone?” he asked during the recent race to elect the LDP president.
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