Critically Insufficient4°C+
Commitments with this rating fall well outside the fair share range and are not at all consistent with holding warming to below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government targets were in this range, warming would exceed 4°C.
Highly insufficient< 4°C
Commitments with this rating fall outside the fair share range and are not at all consistent with holding warming to below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government targets were in this range, warming would reach between 3°C and 4°C.
Insufficient< 3°C
Commitments with this rating are in the least stringent part of their fair share range and not consistent with holding warming below 2°C let alone with the Paris Agreement’s stronger 1.5°C limit. If all government targets were in this range, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C.
2°C Compatible< 2°C
Commitments with this rating are consistent with the 2009 Copenhagen 2°C goal and therefore fall within the country’s fair share range, but are not fully consistent with the Paris Agreement. If all government targets were in this range, warming could be held below, but not well below, 2°C and still be too high to be consistent with the Paris Agreement 1.5°C limit.
1.5°C Paris Agreement Compatible< 1.5°C
This rating indicates that a government’s efforts are in the most stringent part of its fair share range: it is consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.
Role model<< 1.5°C
This rating indicates that a government’s efforts are more ambitious than what is considered a fair contribution: it is more than consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.

Summary table

Paris Agreement targets

Japan’s NDC includes an emissions reduction target of 26% below 2013 levels in 2030 (Government of Japan, 2017), which translates to a 18% reduction from 1990 levels, excluding LULUCF in the base year, but including LULUCF credits in the target year. The target contains 37 MtCO2e/year of credits from LULUCF in 2030. A large share will come from forest management, as was the case for Japan’s pre-2020 targets—this reduces the effectiveness of the target.

LULUCF is an issue in the NDC, given that Japan intends to use credits obtained through LULUCF accounting to meet its 2030 target. According to the NDC, the Japanese government intends to use accounting rules “in line with approaches equivalent to those under the Kyoto Protocol.” This means that the activities of forest, cropland/grazing land managements and re-vegetation are projected to generate a credit of roughly 2.6% of total GHG emissions excluding LULUCF in 2013. This reduces the effectiveness of the 2030 goal from an 18% reduction below 1990 levels to about 15%, which is reflected in our quantification of the NDC. In this context, it should be noted that the Paris Agreement requires the negotiation and adoption of a common approach to methodologies for accounting, and it cannot be assumed that the Kyoto Protocol accounting system will be adopted.

Another uncertainty with the NDC relates to Japan’s proposed overseas crediting system (JCM). According to the NDC, while no crediting from the JCM system was assumed in calculating the target bottom up, “accumulated emission reductions or removals by Fiscal Year (FY) 2030 through governmental JCM programs to be undertaken within the government's annual budget are estimated to be ranging from 50 to 100 million t‑CO2” (Government of Japan, 2017). While there is room for interpretation, assuming that Japan achieves a cumulative JCM credit acquisition of 50–100 MtCO2 by linearly increasing the annual credit acquisition between 2014 and 2030, the credits acquired in 2030 would amount up to 6–11 MtCO2, which is roughly 0.5–0.9% of 1990 emissions. The potential impact of the JCM is not included in our assessment because it is not included in the bottom-up calculation of the NDC target level by the Japanese Government, and also because the future development of the scheme toward 2030 as well as the accounting approach under the Paris Agreement is uncertain.

Japan’s NDC is enshrined in the Plan for Global Warming Countermeasures, the establishment of which is obliged by the Global Warming Countermeasure Promotion Act and which was adopted by the Cabinet on 13 May, 2016 (MOEJ, 2016b). Japan ratified the Paris Agreement on 8 November 2016.

2020 pledge

On 15 November 2013, Japan announced a new pledge to reduce emissions by 3.8% below 2005 levels by 2020. This pledge will result in an emissions level of 1,327 MtCO2e/yr in 2020, equivalent to 4% above 1990 levels. For its original Copenhagen pledge, Japan communicated a target of a 25% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 (Government of Japan, 2010). This target was conditional on the establishment of a fair and effective international framework, in which all major economies participate, and on agreement by those economies to ambitious targets. The revised 2020 pledge assumes zero nuclear power in 2020.

With regard to overseas credits, it has been estimated that about 20 MtCO2e/yr of credits could be used, adding a further 1.6% to the allowed domestic emission (Kuramochi, 2014). It is, however, unlikely that Japan will use any overseas credits for 2020 as it is expected to significantly overachieve the 2020 pledge.

We estimate that LULUCF accounting in the form of forest management leads to a credit of 38 MtCO2e in 2020 (Government of Japan, 2015), equivalent to around 3% of 1990 industrial emissions. As proposed by the Government of Japan these credits will lead to an allowed emissions level under the revised pledge of 1,365 MtCO2e/yr in 2020, or around 7% above 1990 levels. The use of overseas credits can also further increase the total allowed domestic emission levels under the pledge. This pledge has not yet been enshrined in domestic legislation (Kuramochi, 2014).

The revised 2020 pledge of November 2013 was a serious decrease in ambition compared to Japan’s original Copenhagen pledge of 25% below 1990 levels (Government of Japan, 2010). Revision of the original pledge raises the 2020 target by more than 350 MtCO2e/yr. While the Japanese government claims that this revision is mainly due to the future exclusion of nuclear energy from the energy mix (MOE, 2013), the basis of the 3.8% target is the pre-Copenhagen target (15% below 2005 levels) (The Cabinet, 2009), which was much less ambitious than the Copenhagen pledge.

Japan's target for the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008–2012) was at -6% relative to base year (1990) emission levels. Japan overachieved the target by reducing its emissions by 8.4% including LULUCF credits and through the purchase of Kyoto units (MOEJ, 2014). Japan did not commit to a target for the second commitment period of the Protocol (2013-2020).

Long-term goal

Right before hosting the G20 summit in June 2019, Japan submitted its long-term strategy under the Paris Agreement, which reiterates the 2050 target of the previous policy to reduce Japan’s GHG emissions by 80% from current levels and aims to achieve net zero emissions “as early as possible during the second half of the 21st century” (Government of Japan, 2019). This net-zero emissions target is far from the ambition required to keep warming well below 2°C, let alone 1.5 °C, especially in the light of Japan’s common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

The long-term strategy also shies away from committing to a complete phase-out of coal-fired power generation, even in the long term and instead heavily depends on the currently not commercially available technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture and utilization (CCU) to perhaps justify the continued use of coal. On a positive side, the long-term strategy reiterates Japan’s long-term commitment to develop hydrogen as a major decarbonised fuel, for which a national strategy was established in 2017 (METI, 2017a).

Both the Ministry of the Environment (MOEJ) and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) have laid the groundwork and published reports in 2017 for the strategy, which were fundamentally different in their directions. The formally adopted strategy is more strongly influenced by the METI report than by the MOEJ report (METI, 2017c; MOEJ, 2017b). The METI report emphasised the difficulty of achieving the 80% reduction domestically and focused instead on Japan’s international contribution to global emissions reductions, and was critical about the introduction of carbon pricing in the near term.

By contrast, the MOEJ report focused on how to achieve the 80% by 2050 reduction target domestically, and emphasised the need for early introduction of a fully-fledged, nation-wide carbon pricing scheme (as opposed to the current global warming tax, which is less than 3USD/tCO2) (MOEJ, 2017b).

Related to the lack of ambition in the long-term strategy, the Japanese government abandoned its plan to co-lead with Chile on the mitigation strategy workstream for the UN Climate Summit in September 2019 (The Mainichi Newspapers, 2019). This is in stark contrast to what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged in an article for the Financial Times in September 2018 that countries need to take “more robust action” on climate change.

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