July 31, 2008


Vision for a Low-Carbon Japan: Cutting Carbon Emissions 60-80 Percent by 2050

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.71 (July 2008)

"Thanks to the world's efforts, carbon emissions now remain within the capacity of global carbon sink, and the global warming crisis has in reality disappeared. We are fully relieved to know that we can hand down the planet to future generations in good conscience.

Turning to people's lives, locally produced foods are being consumed in the local communities, and people's anxieties about food security in the future have been alleviated. Renewable energy use has dramatically increased, resulting in less serious concerns about energy security. With the achievement of comprehensive recycling and the implementation of maximum energy conservation in homes, people enjoy an extremely comfortable living environment. Public transportation such as trains, buses and light rail transit (LRT) are available everywhere we look across the country, and cars run on non-fossil fuel. Many cyclists enjoy safe and comfortable riding space.

Agricultural, fishing and mountain villages in Japan are now revitalized, and people are smiling again after long periods of hardship. Communication between people in urban and rural areas is active, and these areas are financially linked with each other. The Japanese islands just seem to live as one. The world is now the Spaceship Earth, and all people are its crew, full of the sense of solidarity. --

Will our grandchildren praise and appreciate our efforts to overcome a multitude of difficulties? Or will they ask us, 'Why did you do nothing even when you knew what you should do? What priorities did you have that were more important than your children?' Each of us today holds the choice in our own hands.

To bring this vision to reality, we must take action now."

Japanese mass media and non-governmental organizations issued assessments of the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit 2008 which pointed out it was regrettable that the summit could not bring about complete agreement on the long-term target, and put off the interim target. On the other hand, they did admit that the persistence of the approach taken vis-a-vis the United States averted the worst-case scenario.

With a view to forging a strong foundation for demonstrating its leadership as the host country of the Toyako Summit, Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda announced a set of proposals for Japan - the so-called Fukuda Vision - on June 9, 2008, a month ahead of the summit. He set out a long-term plan to reduce Japan's carbon emissions by 60 to 80 percent by 2050.

In drawing up the Fukuda Vision, the Prime Minister's Advisory Panel on Climate Change was brought into the process in February 2008. Twelve members, including representatives of academia, think tanks, and industries, held interactive discussions with the Prime Minister five times. The statement quoted at the beginning of this article is found in the concluding paragraphs of the proposal submitted by the panel to the Prime Minister.

I (Junko Edahiro, one of the chief executives of Japan for Sustainability) was invited by the panel to join the discussion, although representatives of NGOs are rarely chosen as members of this kind of panel in Japan. The draft of a proposal or a report is generally prepared by the panel's secretariat consisting of government officials, but responding to my suggestion, members of the panel volunteered to create the draft, making this report an unusual example of its kind.

The full text of the proposals is available on the following site: Proposal of the Council on the Global Warming Issue - In Pursuit of "Japan as a Low-Carbon Society."

Prime Minister Fukuda declared that this proposal will function as an action agenda for the future, and thus it contains a full treatment of the present situation and a direction for the future. I would like to introduce an outline of its full content, with excerpts. (If you have any comments or feedback, please let us know so that the panel can share them.)

1. The Time We Are Living in Now

If we fail to stop global warming, neglecting the necessary actions while continuing to depend on non-renewable resources and fossil fuels, we will end up by forcing future generations into a critical situation. Instead, if we act now, the future as well as the present generations can lead happy lives. We are indeed standing at a crucial crossroads.

2. Our Challenge -- a Low-Carbon Society

In short, a viable society is one where the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we emit is within the range that the earth can naturally absorb, at the same time we are leading even more pleasant lives.

In other words, human beings are looking for a low-carbon society that is sustainable. In such a society, people will cease economic activities and lifestyles that emit a large amount of CO2, the dominant greenhouse gas. Everyone will take responsibility for their CO2 emissions, and global energy supply-demand problems can also be eased.

3. What the World Society Needs to Share

A significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is essential to realize a low-carbon society. For this, the world must set a lofty reduction target - "to halve global CO2 emissions by the year 2050."

4. Japan's Resolution

Prime Minister Fukuda has declared that Japan needs to reduce 60 to 80 percent of its current level of emissions to meet the long-term 2050 goal. To realize this, Japan will have to steadily develop innovative technologies based on the plan. A mid-term goal, on the other hand, has to be high-spirited and utilize a bottom-up approach applied on a sectoral basis in order to make it fair and effective.

5. Fundamental Approach to a Low-Carbon Society

The global warming issue is not limited to carbon policy alone. It concerns Japan's economic and social basics such as the environment, resources, energy, food, water and industrial infrastructure, including future industries. To think of this issue is to think of Japan in the 21st century and a new round of nation building.

It is assumed that shifting to a low-carbon society will only take place at enormous social cost. Japan's particular institutional design should be taken into consideration so that these costs will be appropriately borne, not only industries, but also by citizens.

Japanese citizens need to understand that the low-carbon society we are aiming at cannot be a mere extension of our familiar daily lives. We should be prepared to accept the lifestyle changes that will emerge in the change-over process.

6. Moving toward a Low Carbon Society

(1) Innovation

To create a low-carbon society, innovation is essential, particularly in the areas of:

(a) technology,
(b) energy,
(c) financing, and
(d) society.

To promote social innovation, new mechanisms must be established that can mobilize all members of the society to achieve the goal. One such mechanism - "putting a price on carbon" - will play a significant role. Many citizens and businesses are accustomed to think that emitting CO2 does not cost anything, but now they have to realize that they must pay for the environmental costs incurred. This means that additional carbon costs will be included in the prices of goods and services, in this way requiring them to be responsible for their carbon emissions.

(2) Players Involved

Achieving the carbon reduction goals will require the involvement of all players throughout society, that is, the national government, local governments and communities, businesses, households and individuals.

(a) National government
(b) Local governments and communities
(i) Environmental model cities
(ii) Roles of agriculture, fisheries and forestry
(c) Businesses, households and individuals

Businesses, households and individuals will have to change their styles of business or daily life in accordance with the shift to a low-carbon society. Based on the concept of "Mottainai," meaning "waste not, want not," they will have to reduce their use of energy and resources, replace these with renewable sources, and offset their carbon emissions. This will require creative efforts and initiatives in addition to conserving energy; for example, active use of information technology (IT), use of public transportation and car-sharing, promotion of the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle), installation of solar panels and purchasing green power certificates.

7. Raising Public Awareness and the Government's Responsibility

Raising public awareness is essential for the transition to a low-carbon society. People have to reconcile their lives with the limits of Earth's finite resources. Awareness-raising campaigns must call on people to develop a new mindset that allows them to accept social and lifestyle changes.

The government has a responsibility to set the course for a low-carbon society. Its role is to create a national vision and provide clear direction to citizens and businesses so that they can move forward without hesitation or anxiety. In the absence of such a definite policy, no one will take serious action.

It is also the government's role to give people hope and revitalize the society.

(Written by Junko Edahiro)