Analysis of Japan's New Energy Strategy 4/4: Policy Implications

The analyses in the past three posts on the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment, - Japan's comprehensive energy policy overhaul in response to the nuclear accident in Fukushima - have shown a variety of the plan's problems such as (1) inconsistency between its goals and measures, (2) technical and economic difficulties of closing all nuclear power plants by the 2030s, and (3) unrealistic energy demand forecast. The plan's policy implications range from economy to energy security, and this post discusses its impact on environmental policy both domestically and internationally.

The forecast for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the energy plan predicts that Japan's emissions can be reduced only by 5% by 2020 relative to 1990 levels. The government originally envisioned much greater level of reduction, but the plan's goals to close nuclear power plants by the 2030s translates into increasing reliance on thermal plants using fossil fuel and therefore more emissions from electric sector. Take for example, the emission factor of electricity generation surged by a large margin in 2011 (which means dirtier electricity), because the government hasn't sanctioned the reboot of reactors (with one exception) after the earthquake (see below). As many reactors continued to operate til mid-year, the full impact on the emission factor is yet to come in 2012 data.

(Source: Agency for Natural Resources and Energy)

Back in 2009, Japan's then Prime Minister Hatoyama announced at the UN general assembly  that his nation is committed to reduce GHG emissions by 25% relative to 1990 levels by 2020. This goal was seen as inspirational and ambitious by many energy policy experts, and in my view it could have been a critical catalyst to produce stringent nation-by-nation GHG reduction target for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. The new energy plan however indicates that the inspirational goal is now far out of reach for Japan, and some politicians began to loudly call for the goal to be dropped.

Under such circumstances, Japan's delegation remained silent about its own GHG reduction target at the recent UN's Climate Change Conference (COP 18) in Doha. Furthermore, Japan decided not to participate in the second commitment period running from 2012 to 2020 (to reduce GHG emissions within the Kyoto Protocol), which helped some other nations such as Russia and New Zealand to do the same. For the record, Japan had been reluctant in participating in the second commitment prior to the adoption of the energy plan due largely to the lack of participation by the US and China, but the energy plan seems to have played the critical role in finalizing the decision. In this way, COP 18 produced "negative" progress toward global GHG reductions, at least in the short to medium run. The energy plan is certainly not the only cause of the failure of COP 18, but it did negatively contributed the atmosphere of negotiation and encouraged several other nations to abandon their legally-binding commitments.

(Source: UNFCCC)

Once again, the plan's GHG emissions forecast is deeply flawed, and in my view it is misleading the public that the inspirational target was a product of pure idealism and far out of reach for Japan. However, the actual levels of GHG emissions are likely to be far lower than the plan's forecast due to a variety of factors such as (1) unlikely scenarios over nuclear power, (2) bloated energy demand forecast, (3) recently implemented policy measures not considered in the plan such as a carbon tax, and (4) robust and lasting nationwide efforts to reduce electricity consumption.

In conclusion, the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment, after political twist and turns, ended up having many defects ranging from the incoherent goal to close all nuclear power plants by the 2030s to the overestimated GHG emissions, and for this reason, I wish the world to take extreme cautions when examining the energy plan and its implications.

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