Is Japan's Future Sustainable?

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By the second quarter of this century, Asia will be the centre of gravity of the world economy and China will be leading the world. But while the US used ‘democracy’ as its defining diplomatic principle in the 20th century, the big question is–what will China use?

‘Sustainability’ would be a good one. CO2 emissions per capita in China will still be far below those of the US around 2030 and an affluent China will lead developing countries in advocating sustainability.

So how will Japan define itself to survive the next several decades–will its diplomacy emphasize democracy or sustainability? Of course, it must choose sustainability. Prime Minister Hatoyama has declared a goal of a 25% reduction of greenhouse gases compared with 1990 by 2020. This is a 180 degree shift in policy compared with the LDP’s ‘no policy’ approach to climate change for the last decade.

But is Japan a leader in sustainable technologies and their dissemination? The ratios of new wind power installations in 2008 were 31% in the US, 23% in China, and 1% in Japan. By this measure, Japan is 8th in the world. Meanwhile, China’s target for renewable energy is 15% of all its energy consumption by 2020. Japan must realize that it is not at present at the forefront of renewable technologies and their dissemination.

The DPJ is now planning to use both environmental taxation and emissions trading to meet the 25% reduction policy target. At present, it seems that the two approaches are being tackled by different teams. But as both policies increase the price of carbon emissions, they should be designed by the same unit of the government as should other policies such as subsidies and investment in a green new deal. In other words, key policies must be coordinated to make them more effective and synergistic.

The DPJ’s manifesto also pledges to lift the gasoline tax, a move that will increase the consumption of gasoline and thus emissions of carbon dioxide, SOx, and NOx. The Hatoyama administration must explain how it feels such a policy is consistent with its environmental policies.

If Japan is to survive, it must have sustainable environmental policies suited to the next few decades.

Tatsuyoshi Saijo is a professor at Research Institute of Sustainability Science, Osaka University

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