July 31, 2007


Japan Can Reduce CO2 Emissions by 70% by 2050: Interim Report

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.59 (July 2007)


The global warming issue was among the major topics at the thirty-third G8 Summit held in Heiligendamm, Germany, in June 2007. As a summary of the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, chairperson, stated "we will consider seriously the decisions made by the European Union, Canada and Japan which include at least a halving of global emissions by 2050." The outcome of this meeting is expected to prompt active discussions on a post-Kyoto climate regime.

The EU is considering substantial cuts in emissions to tackle global warming, with a target to be met by 2050. Meanwhile, in Japan, a strategic project in view of the year 2050 is now underway. This is the Research Project on Establishing of Methodology to Evaluate Middle to Long Term Environmental Policy Options toward Low Carbon Society in Japan, commonly known as "Japan Low Carbon Society Scenarios toward 2050," established in fiscal 2004 with the National Institute of Environmental Studies (NIES) and Kyoto University as core organizations. The project, subsidized by the Global Environmental Research Fund of the Ministry of the Environment, has about 60 researchers and experts from universities, research institutes and businesses, who are specialized in various fields such as the environment, energy, economy, industry, transportation, urban studies, and international politics.

Japan Low Carbon Society Scenarios toward 2050

On February 15, 2007, the "2050 Japan Low-Carbon Society" scenario team released an interim report on findings of the project's first three years, under the title "Japan Scenarios towards Low-Carbon Society (LCS): Feasibility study for 70% CO2 emission reduction by 2050 below 1990 levels." The team, consisting of members from NIES, Kyoto University, Ritsumeikan University, Mizuho Information and Research Institute and others, concluded in the report that Japan has the technological potential to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the major greenhouse gases, by 70 percent from 1990 levels and still have a well-off and advanced low-carbon society. Now, let us give you an overview of the report.

The Interim Report by "2050 Japan Low-Carbon Society" scenario team

Purpose of the Research

Scientific data show that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by more than 50 percent from current levels by 2050 to stabilize the global climate. Industrialized countries with large per capita emissions, in particular, are required to cut them drastically. Under these circumstances, the project has studied the feasibility of creating a low-carbon society in Japan through a 70 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.

Research Methodology

This study uses a "back-casting" approach, in which researchers create a vision of a desirable future in 2050, and explore the way to realize it. They established two scenarios, allowing for differences in future situations: Scenario A focuses on economic growth and technologies, and Scenario B on local communities and the natural environment. In each of these scenarios, the researchers envisioned a future society through brainstorming, and described its characteristics, for example, as to what services households would need, what houses and cities would look like, and how the industrial structure would change. These factors were then quantified to estimate the amount of energy required.

The research team conducted an analysis based on the assumption that the annual growth rate of per capita gross domestic product (GDP) will be two percent in Scenario A and one percent in Scenario B, in view of a vibrant society with a certain level of the economic growth. The population, which was 127 million in 2000, is estimated to decrease to 95 million in 2050 in Scenario A, and to 100 million in Scenario B because of the declining birthrate and the aging population. Similarly, the number of households is projected to decrease from 47 million in 2000 to 43 million in 2050 in Scenario A, and to 42 million in Scenario B. These figures represent that Japan's GDP in 2050 would be double the level in 2000 in Scenario A, and about 1.5 times the 2000 level in Scenario B.

Other assumptions of the analysis are as follows: (1) the level of services necessary for daily life (e.g., clothing, food, housing and entertainment services) should be maintained or improved; (2) innovative technologies, such as those for electric or fuel cell vehicles, are to be taken into consideration; (3) unproven technologies, such as nuclear fusion, are to be excluded from the analysis; and (4) the analysis should be in line with the existing long-term national strategies, including the nuclear power program.

Conclusion: Japan can achieve a 70% CO2 emission reduction below the 1990 by reducing energy demand by 40 to 45% and by introducing a low-carbon energy supply

The energy demand-side emission reductions could be accomplished by combining a shrinking population scenario with the promotion of rational energy use, energy conservation and improvements in energy efficiency.

Estimated reduction rates of sectoral energy demand (relative to 2000 levels) are as follows, where the range of reductions varies due to different scenarios in 2050:

  • Industrial sector - reduction of 20 to 40% due to structural changes and introduction of energy-saving technologies

  • Passenger transportation sector - reduction of 80% due to proper land use, and improvement in energy efficiency and carbon intensity

  • Freight transportation sector - reduction of 60 to 70% due to better logistics management and improvements in the energy efficiency of vehicles

  • Household sector - reduction of 50% due to replacement of old with new buildings, the spread of highly-insulated houses, and introduction of energy-saving home appliances

  • Commercial sector - reduction of 40% due to renovation and reconstruction with highly-insulated building and introduction of energy-saving office devices

In addition to the reduction of energy demand, the further decarbonization of energy on the supply-side will be necessary. To achieve a low-carbon society, it is assumed that large-scale centralized energy systems (e.g., nuclear power and hydrogen production) and carbon capture storage (CCS) are suitable options for the Scenario A, and the combination of small-sized distributed energy systems (e.g., solar, wind and biomass) and energy efficiency improvement are suitable for Scenario B.

This study estimates the annual implementation cost of introducing low-carbon technologies in order to achieve a LCS targeting 70% emission reductions in 2050. Annual implementation cost of low-carbon technology needed in 2050 is estimated to be around one percent of GDP in 2050, or 8.9 trillion yen (U.S.$72.4 billion, or 0.83 % of GDP in 2050) to 9.8 trillion yen (U.S.$79.7 billion, 0.90%) for Scenario A and 6.7 trillion yen (U.S.$54.5 billion, 0.96%) to 7.4 trillion yen (U.S.$60.2, 1.06%) for Scenario B.

In the analysis of the technological roadmap for 2050, it was found that, considering the lifetime of capital, promoting early investment in energy savings is the optimal path for mitigation action. When energy saving investments are delayed and yet the reduction target is to be achieved by the target year, it becomes necessary to introduce technologies at a higher marginal cost, and it is estimated that economic loss will be greater than the loss in the case of early investment. Considering an efficient use of existing capital invested, it is vital to promote energy-saving investments without missing the opportunity for new investment.

To achieve a low-carbon society, technological innovation and changes in social structure changes must occur more rapidly. Improvements in energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of GDP), a measure of efforts to earn the same amount of GDP with less energy, must be boosted to about two percent per year. In the past this has been less than 1.5% per year. With regard to carbon intensity (carbon emissions per unit of energy consumption), a measure of efforts to switch to low-carbon fuels and energy, if carbon capture storage is not introduced, the required improvement rate exceeds the historical improvement rate.

It cannot be ignored that the decoupling of GDP growth and demand for energy service is essential if society is to achieve "dematerialization" under resource constraints. The study estimated that energy intensity can be improved by 0.5 to 1% per year. The report points out that major societal changes and technological competition will be a part of our future.

The report concludes that "in order to achieve the LCS goals, ... prompt actions should be taken at the earliest stage of the roadmap. Such actions involve structural changes in the industrial sector and investment in infrastructure. Moreover, it is necessary to accelerate development, investment, and use of energy-saving technologies and low-carbon energy technologies."

As for the governmental approach, the report notes that "the government should play a leading role in promoting a common vision towards LCS at the earliest stage, enforcing comprehensive measures for societal and technological innovation, implementing strong measures for translating such reduction potential into reality, promoting measures for public investment based on long-term perspectives and leading incentives for private investment."

Future Development

In the second phase of the project, from fiscal 2007 to 2008, the research project plans to evaluate investment methods, economic aspects, and incentive policies.

This research has been conducted through international cooperation, in parallel with talks under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). It promotes efforts to achieve low-carbon societies globally, in both developed and developing countries, through a grassroots approach.

Since February 2006 the Ministry of the Environment of Japan and the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have been jointly promoting a scientific research project "Developing visions for a Low-Carbon Society (LCS) through sustainable development" toward achieving a low-carbon society by 2050. Besides joint research, this project aims to hold international workshops to integrate related studies all over the world with a view to establish international policies on this issue. In Japan, the "Japan Low Carbon Society Scenarios toward 2050" project team is playing a central role in the project.

Two international workshops have already been held, with the participation of experts from about 30 developed and developing countries. The third workshop will be held February 13 to 15, 2008 in Tokyo, and there low-carbon studies from all over the world will be consolidated for the thirty-fourth G8 summit, to be held in Japan in July 2008.

As global warming will be the main theme of the 2008 summit, we hope that the outcomes of this research project and workshops will play an important role there.

(Written by Kiyoshi Koshiba)