Philip Patrick Philip Patrick

Japan’s carbon neutral pledge looks like a load of hot air

Japan's PM Yoshihide Suga (Getty images)

Japan’s new prime minister Yoshihide Suga is talking tough on climate change. Suga has promised that Japan will become carbon neutral by 2050, a step up from the previous commitment of an 80 per cent cut in emissions. But is this all a load of bluster?

While a certain opacity is expected in formal Japanese (a famous anecdote has a journalist having his copy returned with the instruction ‘Could you make it a little more vague?’) Suga was exceptionally unspecific in his so-called climate commitment. He made little reference to how the target would be achieved, or how progress would be monitored. Nor did he mention the Paris Climate Agreement, which mandates a 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.

What he did say was that his government would undertake ‘the utmost efforts to create a green society’, which could mean just about anything. And given that Suga (71) and the rest of Japan’s reigning gerontocracy will probably be dead long before the apparent promise is due, the whole thing is being taken with a pinch of wasabi.

What detail there is from Suga’s administration consists of optimistic, some would say fanciful, talk of carbon recycling (an as yet effectively non-existent technology) and of securing ‘energy forests’ for the exclusive purpose of growing sources of biomass power. The latter is curiously reminiscent of Japanese attempts at the end of World War 2 to extract oil from pine roots, for which thousands of children were dispatched into the countryside for hours of backbreaking and largely pointless toil. It didn’t end well.

It would be wrong, of course, to say that there has been no substantial shift in thinking in the world’s fifth largest emitter of carbon dioxide. But you do have to look at the fine print to get to the truth.

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