TOKYO - Japan will set bolder climate targets for 2030 next week and promote the adoption of renewable energy in developing countries, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said in what will be a marked policy shift for a country historically wedded to fossil fuel.
The announcement came as Mr Suga and US President Joe Biden launched a bilateral climate partnership on Friday (April 16) during their summit at the White House.
"Japan and the United States are both committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, and we know to do that will require setting and meeting our 2030 goals," Mr Biden said as he vowed to take the lead with Mr Suga to combat the climate crisis.
Their joint initiative, however, puts the onus on Japan to shift its policy goalposts, with the country having earned a bad reputation for its addiction to coal despite Mr Suga's pledge last October to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Japan, the world's fifth-largest carbon emitter, still generates about three-quarters of its energy from coal and thermal power sources such as liquefied natural gas. It has until recently avoided investing heavily in renewable energy, saying it was too expensive and unreliable.
As many as 22 new coal-burning power plants are being built or being planned in Japan, which officially still has not explicitly ended support for the export of such power plants.
All eyes will be on whether Mr Suga reverses course and spells out a clear direction on the future of coal for Japan at a government meeting expected on Tuesday (April 20), before the two-day virtual climate change summit hosted by Mr Biden, which begins on Thursday.
With the Japanese government under pressure from environment groups and domestic businesses to do much more - and much faster - Japan may effectively double its 2030 emissions reduction target.
Citing sources, domestic media reported that Japan may raise its target to between 40 and 50 per cent - from the current goal of a 26 per cent cut in emissions from fiscal 2013 levels which environmentalists say is not good enough for the country to achieve the 2050 net-zero goal.
Still, Japan's greenhouse gas emissions fell to a record low in the fiscal year ending March 2020, Environment Ministry figures showed on April 13, with emissions falling to 1.21 billion metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent or a 14 per cent decline from fiscal 2013 levels.
The government is also considering a blanket halt on the export of coal power plants to developing countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia.
Tokyo has long argued that building coal-fired power plants was the most cost-effective way for developing nations to balance their explosive electricity demand with economic growth and has sought to promote "clean coal", a concept that environmentalists say is an oxymoron as this still emits greenhouse gases.
As recently as in December, Japan inked a deal to provide US$636 million (S$849 million) for a new coal-fired power station in Vietnam.
However, the US-Japan Climate Partnership agreement on Friday noted the "particular vulnerabilities of developing countries to the impacts of climate change, as well as their sustainable development imperatives".
In line with this, the two countries pledged to support developing nations to "rapidly deploy renewable energy, drive the decarbonisation of their economies, and accelerate diverse, ambitious, and realistic transition paths in the region."