The Paris Agreement and Japan by Yumiko Nakanishi

 I Introduction

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, proposed a European Green Deal. She also mentioned it in her speech delivered at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25) in Madrid on 2 December 2019. The European Green Deal includes a proposal for the first European Climate Law, thereby enshrining the 2050 climate-neutrality target into law. The European Union appears as a ‘model student’ in this field. On the other hand, the non-governmental organisation, the Climate Action Network, gave a ‘fossil prize’ to Japan, as well as Australia and Brazil, at the COP 25 because the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry referred to the continuous use of coal-fired plants. The award of this disgraceful prize was reported extensively in Japan.

   The COP 21 took place in Paris. As a result, the Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted in December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. Before the Japanese government concludes international agreements, it determines if and how Japan can comply with them. The government submits not only an agreement in question but also relevant domestic legislation for approval to the Diet. Japan ratified the Paris Agreement, signifying that Japan would comply with the obligations specified therein. In fact, there are important movements towards complying with the Paris Agreement in Japan. In this article, I would like to describe these movements.

II Descent from the ‘model student’ status

Japan cooperated with the EU in tackling climate change before the Fukushima accident on 11 March 2011.

The Japanese government adopted an action plan to stop global warming in 1990. Japan signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1993. Japan’s basic environmental law (i.e. a constitution for environmental law) was adopted on 19 November 1993. The basic law reflects consideration for the UNFCCC. Article 2 of the basic law defines ‘global environmental conservation’ as environmental conservation regarding such phenomena as global warming, the ozone layer depletion, marine pollution, a decrease in wildlife species, and other effects caused by human activities that impact the entire global environment or a large part of it. Article 5 specifies that ‘global environmental conservation shall be actively promoted in cooperation with other countries, utilising Japan’s capacities and resources, and in accordance with Japan’s standing in the international community, in consideration of the fact that global environmental conservation is a common concern of mankind as well as a requirement in ensuring healthy and cultured living of the people into the future, …’. Section 6 (Article 32-35) outlines rules regarding international cooperation for global environmental conservation, et cetera. 

   The government must establish a basic environmental plan for promoting the policies for environmental conservation comprehensibly and systematically according to Article 15 of the Japanese Environmental Basic Law. The first Basic Environment Plan was published in 1994. It referred to global warming. We can find the following sentences in section 5 of Chapter 5 of the plan:

The Government shall implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, including national communications on measures and procedures to arrest global warming and their predicted effects. To further promote measures with international coo.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto in December 1997. It entered into force on 16 February 2005. Japan was obliged to reduce 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 6% by the end of 2012. The Kyoto Protocol set forth the obligations of parties from 2008 through 2012. The Japanese government was eager to comply with the Kyoto Protocol as a model party, and Japanese citizens saw the ‘Team Minus 6%’ campaign everywhere. First, the Global Warming Prevention Headquarters was established under the Cabinet in 1997. In 1998, the Act on Promotion of Global Warming Countermeasures was enacted. Article 10 of the Act specified that the aforementioned headquarters would implement comprehensive countermeasures to combat global warming. Moreover, the headquarters prepared ‘Guidelines for Measures to Prevent Global Warming’ in 1998. After checking the progress towards the prevention of global warming, revised ‘Guidelines for Measures to Prevent Global Warming’ were published. The Japanese Cabinet completed the Kyoto Protocol Target Achievement Plan in 2005 and revised it in 2006 and 2008.

These guidelines and plans showed the necessity of energy efficiency and uses for nuclear energy. In 2010, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy—a governmental organ—produced a third energy basic plan. The plan showed the necessity for promoting nuclear energy and the importance of nuclear power plants. It means that the Japanese government had planned to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the number and using nuclear power plants before the Fukushima accident. As all nuclear power stations in Japan ceased operating after the accident, Japan had to change its energy policy.     

The COP 17 took place in Durban in December 2011; a post-Kyoto protocol was not adopted. The COP 18 took place in Doha in December 2012 and extended the Kyoto Protocol from 2013 through 2020. Japan decided not to commit to the extension period and planned voluntary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   

III Towards the Paris Agreement

1 The Paris Agreement and Japan

The Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted in December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016. Japan ratified the agreement on 8 November 2016 and began applying appropriate measures to achieve the goals outlined therein on 8 December 2016. According to Article 2, paragraph 1, of the Paris Agreement, the aim is to hold an increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. In Article 4, paragraph 2, each party is requested to prepare, communicate, and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. It means that every party must submit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to the secretariat of the UNFCC.

In its INDC submission towards post-2020 greenhouse gas (GHS) emission reductions, the goal for reducing fiscal year (FY) 2013 emission levels by 26.0% by FY 2030 (a 25.4% reduction compared to FY 2005 levels) was reported. The EU and its member states promised to reduce 1990 GHS emission levels by at least 40% by 2030.

2 Rapid reaction to the Paris Agreement in 2015 and 2016

The COP 21 took place from 30 November to 12 December 2015; ultimately, the Paris Agreement was reached. On 22 December 2015 (just after the COP 21 ended), the Global Warming Prevention Headquarters adopted a guideline for tackling global warming; the objective was to work towards the goal of the Paris Agreement. Japan reacted rapidly upon consenting to the Paris Agreement. Based on the guidelines and according to Article 8 of the aforementioned Act on Promotion of Global Warming Countermeasures, Japan’s Cabinet adopted a plan in May 2016 for tackling global warming between 2016 and 2030; details of the plan were described over approximately 180 pages. Accordingly, FY 2013 GHS emission levels were to be reduced by 26.0% by FY 2030 and by 80% by FY 2050. The plan states that the industrial circle should be obliged to reduce global warming gases voluntarily to reach this target. It also states that consumers should cooperate with the people’s movement, the COOL CHOICE. It means that consumers should make wise choices to protect the earth. In May 2016, the National Government Action Plan was issued for the reduction of global warming gases.

3 Amendments to relevant laws

There are also adaptations of the Paris Agreement in the field of law. Japan enacted the Act on Promotion of Global Warming Countermeasures to comply with the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol in 1998. The act was amended in May 2016 to ensure fulfilment of the obligations under the Paris Agreement. These amendments aim to achieve three elements: raise public awareness, promote climate protection through international cooperation, and protect the climate in regions because a reduction of about 40% of global warming gases in the civilian sector is needed to achieve the specified reduction of 26% by 2030. As for raising public awareness, the COOL CHOICE campaign was used to drive citizens, industry, autonomous communities, and NGOs to cooperate in order to reduce global warming gases. Examples include repurchasing low-carbon products (e.g. energy-efficient products such as LED lighting, refrigerators, eco-cars, super-insulated houses), choosing low-carbon services (e.g. public transport, car sharing, smart metres), and adopting a low-carbon lifestyle (e.g. Cool Biz/Warm Biz clothes,[1] eco-drive). As for international cooperation, Japan uses the Joint Crediting Mechanism (JCM) and contributes to the reduction in global warming gases in developing countries. Japan has concluded agreements with 16 countries, including Indonesia and Vietnam. As for the protection of the climate in regions, it boosts countermeasures in local autonomous communities and promotes cooperation between these communities.    

   With the challenge of the oil crisis in the 1970s, legislation aimed at improving energy consumption performance (i.e. Energy Conservation Act) was enacted in 1979 to promote energy efficiency in factories, buildings, machines, and others. The amendment to this act in 1998 introduced the so-called ‘Top Runner Program’, which set the standard for the energy consumption efficiency of machines and instruments in Japan. The programme designated commodities, such as appliances and cars, and numerical criteria based on the most efficient commodities in terms of energy consumption at that time and required manufacturers to design their commodities to clear the criteria by a target year. In 2015, legislation for the improvement of the energy consumption performance of buildings (i.e. Building Energy Efficiency Act) was enacted. This act was amended in May 2019 to comply with the Paris Agreement. It covers housing and buildings. Buildings measuring more than 300㎡ must be assessed if they fulfil the criterion of energy savings. As for housing, registered architects are obliged to inform clients about measures for ensuring energy savings. Builders are obliged to guide clients to purchase housing that adapts to the Top Runner Program, which has stricter criteria for energy savings.   

  Furthermore, the Act of Promoting Utilization of Sea Areas in Development of Power Generation Facilities Using Maritime Renewable Energy Resources was enacted in December 2018. On 15 March 2019, the Cabinet approved the Cabinet Order and Enforcement Order specifying the effective date of the Act, thus enabling the advancement of offshore wind generation, which is effective against global warming.

4 Actions regarding climate change since 2017

  • The fifth energy basic plan

The energy basic plan is prepared by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy and approved by the Cabinet. The third energy basic plan of 2010 emphasised the use of nuclear energy and construction of new nuclear plants. The fourth energy basic plan of 2014 did not refer to building new nuclear plants. The fifth energy basic plan was published in July 2018. Before drawing up the plan, the aforementioned agency collected opinions from the public for the period 9 January to 18 May 2018. The submitted opinions can be found on the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy website.

The fifth energy plan is about 100 pages in length and contains three chapters. Chapter 1 is entitled ‘Structural issues, changes in circumstances, and policy timeframe’. Chapter 2 addresses basic polices and measures towards achieving 2030 goals. Chapter 3 deals with efforts regarding energy transition and decarbonisation by 2050. According to the plan, the basic point of the energy policy is to ensure a stable supply (‘Energy Security’), as well as a low-cost energy supply characterised by enhanced efficiency (‘Economic Efficiency’); the underlying premises are ‘safety’ and maximum effort directed towards pursuing environmental suitability (‘Environment’). The Japanese government will advance an energy policy under the principle of 3E+S. Thus, Japan will maximise the introduction of renewable energy while reducing a dependency on nuclear power. The plan states that the government is advancing with early measures to lay the foundation for the steady conversion of renewable energy into a major power source. The plan describes how and what should be done for each renewable energy source (solar, wind, geothermal energy, hydropower, woody biomass, and others, including biofuels). As for nuclear energy, nuclear power is considered an important base load power source and low-carbon and quasi-domestic energy source. The government acknowledges the problem caused by coal (it emits a large amount of GHS) and will promote conversion to high-efficiency and next-generation coal thermal power generation while making efforts to shift to a cleaner use of gas and fade out inefficient coal use. In fact, the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), Hiroshi Kajiyama, announced the government’s plan to phase out 100 of 140 inefficient coal-fired power stations by 2030.

Furthermore, the plan aims to achieve an energy-saving society. Energy savings is Japan’s strong point. In this context, the plan refers to the Top Runner Program, which sets the standard for the energy consumption efficiency of machines and instruments. The Top Runner Program, which was introduced by the amendment of Energy Conservation Act in 1998, had not applied for construction materials. However, according to the fifth energy plan, the government added products that contribute to improvement of the energy consumption efficiencies of houses, buildings, and other equipment into the scope of the programme. For that purpose, the Energy Conservation Act was revised in 2013 as mentioned above. In addition, the government, in cooperation with the Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, and Ministry of International Trade and Industry, is driving forward net-zero energy housing (ZEH) and net-zero energy building (ZEB) in the context of energy efficiency and energy-related technology. According to the fifth energy plan, the government aims to achieve ZEB, on average, with regard to newly constructed buildings by 2020 for non-residential buildings and by 2030 for newly constructed public buildings nationwide. With regard to housing, the government aims to achieve ZEH for more than half of the ordered stand-alone houses newly constructed by homebuilders, etc., by 2020, for standard newly constructed houses by 2020, and for all newly constructed houses, on average, by 2030. The plan also states that the government seeks to coordinate with measures pertaining to the promotion of the introduction of the renewable energy essential for ZEB and ZEH and utilises the Top Runner Program for building materials while employing popularisation and promotion measures for reductions in the prices of high-performance building materials.[2]  

  • Japan’s long-term strategy under the Paris Agreement

An advisory panel, ‘Parikyotei choukiseichou senryaku kondankai’ (‘For a long-term growth strategy towards the Paris Agreement’), was established under the Cabinet on 4 June 2018. The panel is composed of well-informed independent personalities. This panel issued its final report towards a long-term strategy as a growth strategy for the Paris Agreement on 2 April 2019. The report states that the long-term strategy should be a message of the Japanese government at home and abroad, and this message should express the seriousness of the Japanese government. The strategy should show the transition to a new direction clearly and have an ambitious vision and tradition towards an ideal and decarbonised society. It is suggested that renewable energy mainly be electric power. Furthermore, the realisation of a hydrogen society is emphasised.

Having received this final report, Japan’s Cabinet issued a decision on 11 June 2019 about the country’s long-term strategy under the Paris Agreement. This document, which comprises about 100 pages, was published—surprisingly—not only in Japanese, but also in English. It is also surprising that 800 public comments were gathered from 25 April to 16 May 2019 before the Cabinet decision. The Ministry of the Environment responded to them.  

As a long-term vision, a decarbonised society is considered the goal. The document states that it should be accomplished as early as possible in the second half of this century while taking measures to reduce GHG emissions by 80% by 2050. It is important to note that the document refers to the future:

A decarbonised society for which this strategy should also be a bright society with hope for the future. It is important to create an environment to work voluntarily and actively by sharing the model of such a society with as many stakeholders as possible. A bright society with hope for the future may differ depending on the generations, position and location. For that reason, it is important for everyone to envisage a model of society of its own, considering the following factors[,] and to take actions.

The document refers to the following in a future vision: (i) renewable energy will become an economically self-sustained and decarbonised main power source, (ii) Japan will continue to reduce its dependency on nuclear energy as much as possible, (iii) Japan will continue to make efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from thermal power generation, (iv) a hydrogen society will be realised, and (v) energy efficiency will be promoted and a distributed energy system which contributes to strengthen renewable energy usage will be sought.

Japan’s long-term strategy under the Paris Agreement, Chapter 2, presents measures for emissions reduction in four sectors: energy, industry, transport, and community and living. For example, in transport, the challenge of ‘Well-to-Wheel Zero Emission’ is indicated. It means that every vehicle produced by Japanese automakers will be electrified by 2050. Japan aims to realise the Well-to-Wheel Zero Emission policy in line with global efforts to eliminate emissions, with a focus on energy supply and vehicle innovation. It is said that replacing all vehicles with electrified vehicles (xEVs) can reduce gas emissions by around 80% per vehicle, including an approximately 90% reduction per passenger vehicle.

  • Hydrogen society

Recently, the EU, Germany, and France began to recognise the importance of a hydrogen society to tackle climate change and—at the same time—boost the economy. In Japan in December 2013, the METI established ‘the Council for a Strategy for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells’, composed of industry-academia-government experts (suiso nenryodenchi senryakukyougikai). Based on council discussions, a document, ‘Basic Hydrogen Strategy’ (‘Suiso Kihon Senryaku’)—advocating a world-leading hydrogen-based society—was approved at the Ministerial Council on Renewable Energy and Related Issues on 26 December 2017. This document shows hydrogen as a new energy choice. It indicates that Japan will lead in global efforts to establish a carbon-free society by taking advantage of its strong points. On 23 October 2018, the METI and New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation held the First Hydrogen Ministerial Meeting in Tokyo. As a result, the Tokyo Statement was adopted. Moreover, a New Strategic Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells was formulated by the Council for a Strategy for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in order to achieve the goals of the Basic Hydrogen Strategy on 12 March 2019.

  The realisation of a hydrogen society is not just a call; rather, it accompanies a real process in Japan. This roadmap shows clearly how to realise a hydrogen society.

5 Concluding remarks

Japan lacks sufficient energy resources and must depend on overseas fossil fuels for about 94% of its primary energy supply. Nuclear energy was considered the ideal energy for countries like Japan. The country could produce energy by itself without emitting CO2. However, the Fukushima accident changed Japan’s energy policy.  

   To face this challenge, the Japanese government began to consider seriously the realisation of a hydrogen society. Now, Japan is proceeding towards it. In doing so, it is important to note the role of Japanese industry. For example, Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation) published a policy proposal entitled ‘Challenge Zero: Innovation Challenges towards a Decarbonized Society’.In the past and now, Japanese industry made and is making efforts to produce energy-efficient products. That is a strong point of Japanese industry. To tackle climate change and achieve an ideal society in the future, Japanese industry is making efforts to develop hydrogen technology and achieve a hydrogen society.  

Yumiko Nakanishi is Professor of European Union Law at Graduate School of Law, Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, Japan, Visiting fellow, Max Planck Institute Luxembourg. Her main research fields are EU constitutional law, EU environmental law and EU external relations law. Recent works: “Climate Change and Environmental Issues in the Economic Partnership Agreement and the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Japan”, Hitotsubashi Journal of Law and Politics, Vol. 48, 2020; Yumiko Nakanishi (ed.), Contemporary Issues in Human Rights Law: Europe and Asia, Springer, 2018; ders (ed.), Contemporary Issues in Environmental Law, Springer, 2016. E-mail:

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