Rising Or Falling Leadership In The Land Of The Rising Sun?Nicolette Bartlett
Is the tide finally turning in terms of Japanese business leadership on climate change?
Pressure is mounting on governments to make bold strides on a range of key issues at the upcoming G7 meeting in Germany. None more so than on Japan, with international and local stakeholders pushing the government to do better on climate change.
Japan is often thought of as a world leader in many aspects of economic development, particularly when it comes to technology, but this is not the case when it comes to action on climate change. Japan’s leadership started out strong with the 1997 Conference of Parties (COP) delivering the Kyoto Protocol, which currently sees 192 countries agreeing to reduce their overall greenhouse gas emissions. However, this leadership has not continued at subsequent COPs. This was particularly so at the 2010 Cancun COP where Japan did not commit to any extension of the Kyoto Protocol, surprising other developed nations, including the EU. This effectively stalled negotiations, and while many developed countries agreed with Japan, there would have been more scope for compromise without Japan’s unwavering ‘anti-Kyoto’ stance. It was also forced to downgrade its 2020 emissions target from an ambitious 25% to 3.8% in the wake of the nuclear disaster.
This year, in the lead up to COP21 in Paris, there are growing expectations that a new global climate deal will be secured. This deal will largely be based on countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These INDCs, which countries are submitting to the UNFCCC throughout the year, outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take under any new international agreement. It is not dramatic to say that the culmination of these INDCs, alongside a range of kay additional commitments, have the potential to take us one step further on the path to a prosperous climate resilient future, as opposed to potential devastation that runaway climate change could herald.
It is therefore not surprising that the release of countries INDCs has been given a lot of attention. As of today, 38 countries have formally submitted their INDCs to the UNFCCC. The EU has submitted a contribution of 40% reduction in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions on 1990 levels by 2030, and the US has set a target of 26-28% GHG reduction on 2005 levels by 2025. Now, all eyes are on countries like Japan as to whether or not they will match this ambition and take their place as world climate leaders once more. Unfortunately, initial indications hint that this might not be the case.
In Japan, there is understandably a focus on energy reforms and getting the country back on track after the devastating Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. In terms of its INDC, to be officially submitted in July, Japan has proposed it will aim for a 26% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030, compared to 2013 levels. A key governmental body, that will play a role in the final decision, has stated that Japan must set a target that is internationally comparable to other developed nations. However, it is not nearly as ambitious as the EU or US targets and a group of dedicated individuals are now challenging the Japanese government and urging them to increase its ambition and release a stronger target in July.
The Japan Climate Leaders’ Partnership (Japan-CLP) has published a paper asking the Japanese government to increase its INDC to a minimum of 30% reduction in GHG emissions from 1990 levels (about 36% compared to 2005) by 2030 ‘in order to responsibly and actively address climate change’. The group is a network of prominent Japanese companies (such as Fujitsu, Kikkoman, Ricoh, Aeon, Lixil Group and Orix) that aim to create a low-carbon society, seizing on the idea that low-carbon development is a prerequisite for economic activity. It is chaired by former Ricoh president Mr. Masamitsu Sakurai, having been set up in 2009, inspired by the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, and as part of the Corporate Leaders Network for Climate Action.
Perhaps most importantly, the paper highlights the business case for why increased ambition makes economic sense. So far in Japan, the proposed Japanese INDC has mostly been seen as in an increase in costs for Japanese companies and society.
The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is this week attending the G7 summit in Germany. Here, Prime Minister Abe will explain the proposed target ahead of officially submitting the INDC in July. It is hoped that the release of Japan-CLP’s policy paper, alongside external pressure from other countries and stakeholders at the G7, particularly those that have already released ambitious INDCs, will prompt Japan to reconsider its position. Will strong support from the business community for increased action translate into a strong INDC and a global agreement at the Paris negotiations in December? Only time will tell.