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Japan Carbon-Free by 2050     10/26 06:54


   TOKYO (AP) -- Japan will achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050, Prime 
Minister Yoshihide Suga declared Monday, outlining an ambitious agenda as the 
country struggles to balance economic and pandemic concerns.

   The policy speech at the outset of the parliamentary session was Suga's 
first since he took office on Sept. 16 after his boss Shinzo Abe resigned over 
health reasons. It reflects Suga's pragmatic approach to getting things done, 
though it's unclear he will have the political heft needed to overcome vested 
interests in weaning this resource-scarce nation from its reliance on imports 
of oil and gas.

   Suga just returned from a trip last week to Vietnam and Indonesia, where he 
pushed ahead with Abe's efforts to build closer ties and promote a regional 
vision for countering growing Chinese influence.

   Now out of Abe's shadow, back home Suga has been pumping out 
consumer-friendly policies. He has earned a reputation as a cost cutter.

   He said he intends to make a sustainable economy a pillar of his growth 
strategy and "put maximum effort into achieving a green society." That includes 
achieving a carbon-free society by 2050.

   The European Union and Britain have already set similar targets for net-zero 
greenhouse gas emissions, and China recently announced it would become 
carbon-free by 2060. Japan previously targeted a 80% reduction by 2050.

   Suga portrayed the need to shift away from fossil fuels to counter climate 
change as an opportunity rather than a burden.

   "Global warming measures are no longer obstacles for economic growth, but 
would lead to industrial and socio-economic reforms and a major growth," he 
said. "We need to change our mindset."

   Japan's current energy plan, set in 2018, calls for 22-24% of its energy to 
come from renewables, 20-22% from nuclear power and 56% from fossil fuels such 
as oil, coal and gas.

   Progress toward reducing reliance on fossil fuels has been hindered due to 
the prolonged closures of most of Japan's nuclear plants after the meltdown of 
the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant due to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in the 
northeastern Tohoku region.

   Energy experts are now discussing revisions to Japan's basic energy plan for 
2030 and 2050. The 2050 emissions-free target would require drastic changes and 
likely prompt calls for more nuclear plant restarts.

   About 40% of Japan's carbon emissions come from power companies, and they 
must use more renewable sources of energy while stepping up development of 
technologies using hydrogen, ammonia and other carbon-free resources, experts 

   Suga said he will speed up research and development of key technologies such 
as next generation solar batteries and carbon recycling. He also promised to 
reduce Japan's reliance on coal-fired energy by promoting conservation and 
maximizing renewables, while promoting nuclear energy.

   Environmental groups welcomed his announcement. "Carbon neutrality is no 
longer a lofty, faraway dream, but a necessary commitment," in line with 
international climate change agreements, Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of 
Greenpeace International, said in a statement.

   In the short term, Japan's top priority is to curb the pandemic while 
reviving the economy, Suga said.

   Turning to Japan's biggest long-term problem, a low birthrate and shrinking 
population, Suga reiterated a pledge to provide insurance coverage for 
infertility treatments. He also said he would promote paternity leaves for 
working fathers to ease the burden of child-rearing and home-making on working 
mothers. He promised more help for single-parent households, more than half of 
which are living in poverty.

   Among other highlights, Suga said:

   --The Japan-U.S. alliance, a cornerstone of Japanese diplomacy and security, 
is key to achieving a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" regional economic and 
security framework to counter China's sway.

   --Japan, meanwhile, seeks to have stable ties and cooperate with China.

   --Japan is open to meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to resolve 
conflicts over abductions of Japanese citizens years ago and wartime 
compensation and to normalize diplomacy with Pyongyang.

   --South Korea is "an extremely important neighbor," but it should drop its 
demands for compensation over Korean wartime forced laborers to restore 
"healthy" bilateral relations.

   Since taking office Suga has crafted a populist and pragmatic image, winning 
public support for his relatively modest background and low-profile, 
hardworking style.

   He has ordered his Cabinet to step up implementation of pet projects such as 
lowering cellphone rates and accelerating use of online government, business 
and medical services.

   "I will break administrative divisions, vested interests and bad precedents 
to push for reforms," Suga said.

   But he also said Japanese should try to help themselves before looking to 
the government for assistance, in line with what experts say is a conservative 
stance that is unsympathetic to the disadvantaged.

   Suga is best known for his effectiveness in corralling powerful bureaucrats 
to force through Abe's policies.

   His hardline approach has sometimes drawn criticism. Earlier this month, he 
was accused of seeking to muzzle dissent by choosing not to appoint six 
professors out of a slate of 105 to the state-funded Science Council of Japan.

   The flap triggered massive protests from academics and took the public 
support rating for his Cabinet down about 10 points to just above 50%.

   Opposition lawmakers are expected to raise the issue during the 41-day 
session through Dec. 5.


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