Japan promises to be carbon-neutral by 2050

Japan promises to be carbon-neutral by 2050

But the government has yet to produce a plan to reach the goal

Suga yoshihide, Japan’s new prime minister, came to office in September promising continuity with his predecessor, Abe Shinzo. But in one way he has already distinguished himself: during his first speech to the Diet as prime minister, on October 26th, he promised to reduce Japan’s net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050, breaking with Mr Abe’s foot-dragging on climate change. That brings Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy and fifth-biggest emitter, with a relatively poor record on emissions cuts (see chart), in line with Britain and the European Union and slightly ahead of China, which last month promised zero emissions by 2060.

Japan had previously pledged to be carbon neutral by an unspecified date in the second half of the century. That woolliness had confused bureaucrats and investors alike. The new goal is clearer, but Mr Suga will have to prove it is not just an empty pledge. “The government doesn’t yet have a clear vision as to how to achieve the target, but the target is a way to start the conversation,” says Kameyama Yasuko of the National Institute for Environmental Studies.

There are reasons to be optimistic. By the time of Mr Suga’s speech, more than 160 local governments, representing 62% of the population, had already pledged zero emissions by 2050, up from just four a year ago. Many leading Japanese companies, from consumer brands like Sony and Panasonic to industrial firms like Sumitomo Chemical, have adopted ambitious emissions targets. Even Keidanren, a powerful business lobby that is a bastion of heavy industry, has started talking about decarbonisation. “The energy-intensive industries that oppose climate mitigation have become a minority,” says Ms Kameyama.