March 9, 2010


Vision Quest 2020: Two Scenarios for Japan in Ten Years (Part Two)

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.90 (February 2010)

In the previous issue of the JFS Newsletter, I sketched out one of the possible scenarios for Japan in ten years, by asking the question, "What will Japan be like in 2020 if we carry on with business as usual?" In this issue, I will introduce another one -- a completely different scenario of Japan that I hope will come true -- a vision of possibility for the nation. This time I ask, "What will Japan be like in 2020 if we do things right?"

Vision Quest 2020: Two Scenarios for Japan in Ten Years (Part One)


Imagine that the year 2020 has just begun. Over the last decade, Japan has changed dramatically. In 2010, the nation was already well aware that the year 2020 would only be a milestone on the road to an 80% reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions in 2050. Instead of letting money flow out of the country just to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, Japan started investing heavily in genuine efforts to cut domestic emissions and support the reduction efforts of developing countries.

Moreover, it fully recognized that global warming was not the only challenge for the country. Armed with the understanding that the world was reaching the peak of maximum global fossil energy extraction, as well as the fact that food security accompanying the energy issue was also a big concern, the country began tackling these issues as well.

At the same time, Japan developed a blueprint of how the country, with its shrinking and aging population, could make a soft landing, and how it could maximize the happiness of local people while at the same time lessening the burden on the government of providing welfare services. Each local government also implemented urban planning and development initiatives toward becoming a low-carbon society.

In other words, in terms of climate, energy, economy, and society, Japan has spent these ten years shifting to being a country that could stand on its own feet without waiting for negotiations at the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP) and decisions to be made by other countries.

What the country focused on most for the last decade has been related to energy issues. It promoted a variety of renewables, not only solar power but also wind -- particularly offshore wind farms -- geothermal, biomass, and solar heat. Smart grid infrastructure was also developed rapidly across the country, so that these variable natural energy sources could be widely used nationwide. Now, the development of infrastructure is almost finished, and every local community can develop renewable energy sources suitable to its local natural and geographical conditions.

Public transport and car sharing are the main means of mobility for people. Almost all the automobiles on the road to supplement the transport options are electric vehicles. Gasoline-fueled cars are not energy-efficient and too expensive in terms of fuel costs and taxes on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and so they are no longer attractive except for some collectors. The places once known as gas stations are now charging points to supply electric vehicles with electricity generated by solar panels, wind turbines, and small-scale biomass power plants.

Promoting CO2-free energy use enabled a decoupling of energy use and CO2 emissions. Japanese industries have been able to expand their economic activities without restraints or penalties, and the economy is increasingly gaining momentum.

Cities have been designed to have workplaces near homes in order to reduce CO2 emissions and dependence on imported energy. In addition to cutting CO2 emissions from commuting, this approach has reduced commuting times, allowing people to spend more time with their families, and resulting in a better environment for child rearing and an increase in birth rates. Since many people have returned to their communities, local festivals and commercial districts have been revitalized. A virtuous circle is being created across Japan, as the local circulation of goods and money within communities revitalizes them even more.

In 2010, Japanese forests were becoming increasingly devastated due to a lack of proper maintenance, and this was considered a serious issue for national land conservation. But now, forestry is booming because it has become an energy industry. By utilizing the wood left over from thinning the forests as well as wood residue for biomass energy, forestry has become economically feasible again. Young people, vigor, and pride have returned to the forests.

Ten years ago, the profits of power companies were based on electricity sales, but now they are based on the comfort level they provide to homes, which includes minimizing CO2 emissions as much as possible without using excess electricity. Therefore, they strive to maximize household comfort using minimum amounts of electricity, instead of making consumers use more.

Since the "Eco-point" system for residential homes was introduced in 2010, the use of heat insulation in homes began to expand gradually. At present, in 2020, every home (including both new and old) has highly efficient double-pane windows. These retrofits have helped solve the problem of cold air and dew condensation, as well as blocking outside noise, in addition to simply saving energy, thus contributing to quieter and more comfortable living.

As for home appliances, new energy-saving models were introduced for homes in 2010. After ten years of effort, in 2020, all home appliances are linked to "smart" meters, providing comfort and energy saving to homes by communicating with the power companies through the grid. For instance, refrigerators and air conditioner are automatically turned off for five to ten minutes every hour, without users noticing, depending on the conditions of demand and supply of the whole grid. Consumers still enjoy the same comfort; the only thing reduced is their electricity bill.

In agricultural areas, Japan increased the rate of food self-sufficiency -- in order to provide safe and nutritious produce to people -- by making considerable efforts in farming without depending on fossil fuels. Within the past decade, the carbon sequestration of soil as well as forests has been included under international protocols as reducing CO2 emissions. Thus, Japan's farmland -- with an emphasis on organic farming, no-till farming, and use of bio-charcoal -- is producing carbon credits, and providing extra income to farmers.

By promoting energy saving and energy shifting, CO2 emissions from Japanese households are on track to dropping to zero by the year 2050. Japanese industries now have the capability of reducing the CO2 emissions of the households and economies of any country by offering combinations of systems of all and any high-performance and independent product. This is a major source of Japan's international competitiveness. The Japanese government and businesses are now known as "world leaders in CO2 reduction," attracting constant inquiries and orders from other countries.

Against this backdrop, the smiles and confidence are coming back to the Japanese people. They can live and engage in economic activities without feeling guilty about future generations and the fate of other species. They are confident about their future, even without petroleum, as well as much tighter restrictions on CO2 emissions. The world respects Japan for its shift in the real sense to a low-carbon and sustainable society, not only with their investments but also in their deeds. In other words, when talking about this country, others say, "Japan does what it says it will do."


In these last two issues of the JFS Newsletter, I have sketched out two possible futures for Japan. What do you think of them? These are only my personal projections of what Japan will be like by following either the course of business as usual or pursuing a vision of a better future. Were these useful examples of backcasting, starting from a future ideal and should-be situation and working back to the present?

Can you come up with two future prospects of your own country? How will they look?

I hope that every one of us -- people around the world in all countries, regions, businesses, and households alike -- can draw up our own positive visions of the future using the backcasting method. I hope that we will then make them come true by taking concrete steps and promoting them vigorously in the coming decade.

I also hope that in the first issue of the JFS Newsletter in 2020, I will be able to write in an article, "The world has changed for the better in the past decade!"

Written by Junko Edahiro