Japan has minimal natural gas production capabilities and imports approximately 95% of its natural gas. With the massive size of its economy and population of 125 million, Japan has been the largest importer of natural gas in the world until 2021 when China surpassed it after it increased its imports by 18% year on year. While it is no longer in the top spot, Japan is, of course, still a huge importer of natural gas taking some 21% of the world’s gas supply worth about USD 30 bn per year.
Japan consumed approximately 74 million tons in 2021 which was its fourth year of reductions bringing its current usage in line with its usage in 2010. Its largest sources (in order) are Australia, Malaysia, Qatar, Russia, the US, Brunei, Papua New Guinea, Oman, Indonesia, and Nigeria, with Australia coming in at approximately 39%, roughly triple the number two Malaysia.
Due to Japan’s high reliance on coal for electricity (31%), the cleaner alternative of gas-fired power (36%) is considered part of the energy mix strategy to reduce carbon emissions. Even so, gas usage is also planned to be reduced by some 50% by 2030. While aggressive, any reliance on imported fuel does not address energy security in the way that looking to domestic renewables does. And, unfortunately, Japan lags in aggressively moving towards renewable energy compared with numerous wealthy nations, especially considering the potential of readily available offshore wind, geothermal, and solar, and both coal and gas are expected to have a major place in the energy mix over the coming years.
Some 70% of Japan’s total emissions are concentrated in five sources: coal-fired electricity is the largest source of emissions, followed by transportation, gas-fired electricity, steel, chemicals. While detailed breakdowns of gas consumption by sector do not seem readily available, high-level sectors (in order) would be power, industrial, residential, commercial, and other.
Unfortunately, Japan gets a thumbs down when it comes to gas consumption in respect to overall climate goals. The largest reason is simple—Japan is very well positioned to take advantage of its abundance of clean energy sources such as offshore wind, geothermal, and solar. Japan continues to see its lack of domestic fossil fuel sources and its geographic isolation (prohibiting it from participating in a European style energy grid) as reasons to focus its energy security policies on the diversification of its enormous imports of fossil fuels.
Japan could just as easily be focused on strengthening its energy security on the back of rapid expansion of energy sources that are abundant—offshore wind is virtually limitless on this island nation; geothermal in Japan, third in the world in number of active volcanoes is also a “no brainer,” and solar in a country with large areas in the tropics is another easy win. Moreover, Japan is world famous for the robustness of its infrastructure and its egalitarian nature on almost every square inch of the country. With such well-developed infrastructure already in place, aggressive policy in this direction would yield results very quickly, freeing Japan of its dependency on imported fossil fuels at the mercy of global foreign exchange rates.
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This Brief has been submitted by Climate Scorecard Japan Country Manager James Hawylak