Japan will fail to reduce its emissions over 2019 levels by 50% by 2030

In October 2020, Japan declared its goal of becoming “carbon neutral by 2050”. In April 2021, Japan announced a new GHG reduction target for FY2030 of 46% below the FY13 level. In its “Green Growth Strategy,” the Government of Japan has laid a roadmap and policies for 2030 and 2050 and the 14 growth sectors that will drive it (Figure 1, Figure 2). By 2030, the main pillars of the plan are to increase renewable energy, restructure nuclear power generation, reduce the ratio of thermal power generation based on renewable energy, and promote energy saving in industries. The policy is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 through new energy reduction and technologies, including hydrogen and ammonia as new clean energy sources.

Figure 1

Source: METI (2021).


Figure 2

Source: METI (2021).

The relationship between the Japanese government’s 2013 baseline reduction rate target of 46% announced in April 2021 (45% reduction for energy-related CO2) and the “halving from 2019 levels” indicated by the IPCC in March 2023 (Figure 3, Table 1) is illustrated below. Japan’s CO2 emissions (energy-related CO2) were reduced by 17%, from 1,235 million tons in 2013 to 1,028 million tons in 2019. 2030 Target (2021 ver) is the Japanese government’s April 2021 target to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% from 2013 levels (energy-related CO2). This means a 34% reduction (677 million tons after reduction) compared to the actual emissions in 2019. On the other hand, if the Japanese government commits to the 50% reduction compared to 2019 proposed by IPCC, this would mean a 58% reduction compared to 2013 (514 million tons after reduction). Committing to the new target would mean an upward revision of 163 million tonnes in emission reductions or 13% in percentage terms from the target set in April 2021.

Table 1

Emissions, Energy-related, After allocation  [Mt CO2] 2013
2030 Target
(2021 ver)
2030 Target
(-50% vs 2019)
Industry 464 386 289 193
Commercial and others 237 191 116 95
Residential 208 159 70 79
Transport 224 206 146 103
Energy conversion 103 86 56 43
Total 1,235 1,028 677 514
vs 2013 N/A -17% -45% -58%

Source: Adapted from GIO (2023).







Figure 3

Source: Adapted from GIO (2023)

Considering the impact of Covid2019 in 2020 and 2021, the average reduction rate of CO2 emissions over the seven years 2013-2019 is calculated to be 2.4%. Simply assuming an average annual reduction rate of 2.4% each year until 2030 compared to the 2021 actual figure, the 2030 figure is only 794 million tons, a 35.7% reduction from the 2013 figure, not even reaching the 45% reduction target set in April 2021, and a 23% reduction from the 2019 figure, which is far below the 50% target. Therefore, in order to achieve the target, continuous improvement of existing policies is not enough, and drastic and rapid emission reductions are needed.

The Japanese government has noted that Japan is characterized by energy-related CO2 emitted from the combustion of fuels. The use of supplied electricity and heat accounts for a high 92% of its CO2 emissions, 50% of which are emitted during power generation. This figure is higher than that of other major countries, making CO2 reduction in the energy sector the most important (Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, 2019). Of the emission reductions toward FY2030, 75% are expected to come from measures in the energy conversion sector, of which 99.7% will come from electricity (MoE, 2022; Table 2).

Table 2

[Million ton CO2] A B C D E Total (%)
Industry 0 12 29 13 54 7%
Commercial and others 0 10 18 16 43 5%
Residential 7 0 22 6 35 4%
Transport 3 16 43 1 4 67 8%
Energy conversion 2 607 609 75%
Total 10 39 718 37 4 808 100%
(%) 1% 5% 89% 5% 1% 100%

Source: Adapted from MoE(2022)

The power generation sector accounts for 40% of pre-Allocation energy-derived CO2 emissions, with an average annual reduction rate of 2.6% between 2013 and 2019. If the reduction rate continues at this pace, the reduction rate in 2030 relative to 2013 will be about 35% and 21% relative to 2019.

Japan’s electricity policy had changed dramatically since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident on March 11, 2011, when nuclear power, which had accounted for 25% of Japan’s electricity in FY2010, ceased operations, and natural gas and oil-fired power generation was used to make up the shortfall. Since then, Japan has been increasing the amount of electricity generated from renewable energy sources, mainly solar power, and in recent years has been reducing its dependence on fossil fuels. However, the share of renewable energy remains at 13% in 2021 (Table 3).

Table 3

Source: Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (2023)

Since the numerical targets for each year were not found in publicly available documents, comparing the actual results for each year and the original targets was impossible. On the other hand, the target for the electricity mix in 2030 (October 2021) has been published (Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, 2021). According to this target, fossil fuel-based thermal power will account for 40% (73% in 2021), nuclear power for 22% (7% in 2021), and renewable energy for 38% (13% in 2021).

Regarding thermal power generation, the Japanese government has stated that it will maximally pursue using thermal power generation based on the assumption of CO2 capture. However, thermal power generation based on the assumption of CCUS is not expected to contribute to the 2030 target because it is not yet in commercial operation in Japan. As for nuclear power generation, the Japanese government intends to restart nuclear power plants sequentially while ensuring their safety, but it is difficult to believe that the pace of restarting existing nuclear power plants, which are already outdated, can be easily accelerated amid persistent unease and opposition to nuclear power generation in the Japanese society. In addition, it is no longer possible to build new plants by saying that the once-emphasized economic competitiveness of nuclear power is due to safety costs and radioactive waste costs since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Compared to the short-term utilization of CCUS in thermal power generation and the high uncertainty of the expansion of nuclear power generation, it is natural to aim to achieve the target with renewable energy sources as the axis of energy generation. Simply subtracting the growth rate of each renewable energy source between 2020 and 2021 to the year 2030, the total amount of renewable energy in 2030 will be 392 billion kWh, which exceeds the target of 353 billion kWh. On the other hand, there are risks and challenges, as described below.

Hydroelectric power: In Japan, not only dams for power generation but also flood control dams are equipped with power generation facilities, so there is room for expansion by up to a factor of two (Japan Research Institute, 2023). On the other hand, power generation has been on a downward trend in recent years, and unless measures are taken to prevent flood damage and other local conditions, it will be difficult to reach the target.

Solar power: Solar power generation has been the fastest-growing renewable energy source since 2011, growing 9% from 2020 to 2021. On the other hand, the introduction of solar power has been progressing at Level 1 is the most suitable location for solar power generation (in terms of size, sunlight, etc.), and will move to the introduction stage to Level 2, where the location conditions are less favorable, which may lead to lower capital investment and generation efficiency, higher per-unit generation costs, and slower introduction speeds. According to the Japan Research Institute (2023), if shared use with agriculture is maximized in conjunction with agricultural policy, the potential for expansion is about four times the current scale.

Wind power: Wind power generation is one of the growth sectors, showing 5% growth from 2020 to 2021. On the other hand, Japan has fewer suitable sites for offshore wind power generation than Europe, which is a concern for future growth. While offshore wind speeds in Europe are expected to average 10 meters/second, Japan’s wind speed is 7.5 meters/second, and in addition, the high wave height and high risk of typhoons make equipment, construction, and inspection costs high (Japan Research Institute, 2023). According to the IEA, waters up to 2000 meters deep have potential for offshore wind power, and Japan’s potential is about nine times the total annual power generation (Kaku, 2023), but this does not seem to take into account cost issues and will not contribute significantly to achieving the 2030 target.

Biomass: The scale of biomass power generation is growing by 15% between 2020 and 2021. Still, fuel availability is supported by imports from abroad, and the problem of environmental destruction in foreign countries remains a risk. Reflecting this, the government target 2030 is limited to 4.7 billion kWh.

Increased supply from solar and wind power and decreased supply from thermal power are the most desirable scenarios for 2030 and 2050. Still, the high cost in Japan is a significant barrier to rapid expansion in both cases. With no innovative measures in sight, the likelihood of achieving the goals, especially the latest IPCC targets, cannot be estimated too high.

The following section outlines other sectors responsible for reducing energy demand through energy conservation and promoting electrification. In the Industry, Commercial and others, Residential, and Transport sectors, the current pace of CO2 reductions will achieve only 26-45% of the 2013 level announced for 2021, far short of the 50% reduction target for 2019. The steel and transportation (automobile-related) sectors account for a particularly large share of the industry. In the steel sector, companies are developing new technologies, such as the Nippon Steel Group’s introduction of a new type of steelmaking technology that uses hydrogen to achieve a 10-30% reduction (Kaku, 2023). In addition to these technological innovations, new plants, facilities, and equipment to be built in the future should be low-carbon and decarbonized. It should encourage the electrification of energy demand.


Table 3

Emissions, Energy-related, After allocation  [Mt CO2] 2013
vs 2019
7year ave
2013 Act
vs 2030 Est
2019 Act
vs 2030 Est
Industry -16.7% -2.4% -35.2% -22.2%
Commercial and others -19.6% -2.8% -37.9% -22.8%
Residential -23.5% -3.4% -44.7% -27.7%
Transport -8.1% -1.2% -25.8% -19.3%
Total -16.8% -2.4% -35.6% -22.6%

Source: Adapted from GIO (2023)

In transportation, Japan is aiming for 100% electric vehicles in new passenger car sales by 2035, but the figure is still less than 1% (Merkmal, 2022). Further policies and incentives are needed to promote EVs in passenger cars, and modal shifts and overall reduction of transportation demand are also important.

In the Commercial and Residential sectors, energy conservation in buildings, including housing, is the measure expected to reduce CO2 emissions the most (Ministry of the Environment, 2022). Policies and incentives to accelerate reconstruction will be important.

Under the current circumstances, it is highly unlikely that Japan will achieve its 2030 emissions goal of halving emissions from the 2019 level. Even before that, Japan’s April 2021 commitment of 46% below 2013 levels is challenging. If Japan is to commit to and achieve even higher targets, it will need to strengthen its emission reduction actions in all sectors significantly. Accelerating the introduction of renewable energy sources in the power generation sector and addressing the high cost of such sources will be necessary. Japan’s current policy assumes to compensate for delays and shortfalls by new technologies under development (hydrogen, ammonia, CCS, CCUS, etc.), which are uncertain and costly. In order to build a reliable energy system, Japan needs to seriously address the high-cost structure of solar and wind power generation, which are created by environmental conditions that differ from those in Europe and other countries, and create its own unique strategy.



This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Japan Country Manager Kazuya Takeda


Learn More Sources:



Climate Scorecard depends on support from people like you.

We are a team of researchers providing information on efforts to reduce global emissions. We help make you better informed and able to advocate for improved climate change efforts. Donations of any amount are welcome.