Early today, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida touched down at Edinburgh Airport in a Japanese Government jet, his first overseas visit since winning an election at the weekend. Less than eight hours later, after a speech at the World Leaders Summit and a meeting with Boris Johnson, he was back on the plane for the return journey to Tokyo. With a keen research interest in Japan and some new work underway on how Japan can manage its climate response in a way that is fair and just, I focused my attention today on seeing what I could glean from the statement put out after Kishida’s visit to COP26.
Just after 3pm we were shepherded into a conference room where – after I had given out some of my remaining biscuits to early arrivals – the Japanese Government held a conference on Kishida-san’s visit. Some impressive figures were read out about Japan’s increased commitment to supporting less empowered parts of the world in the fight against climate change, including support for net-zero energy and for adaptation and resilience-building. It was also strongly reiterated that Japan aims to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 46% by 2030, and to reach net-zero by 2050. However, much less clear were the measures that Japan will take at home to reduce its climate impact. Particularly, even after probing from a few journalists, it was impossible to get a clear answer on when Japan aims to phase out coal by. However, hydrogen, ammonia and carbon capture and storage were all suggested to have a big role to play in Japan’s net-zero energy mix.
Over at the Japan Pavilion, I had the opportunity to gain some insight into how these climate change ambitions would be realised at the local level. Local governments are a critical but often overlooked part of the climate challenge, because it is at local level where high-level rhetoric gets turned into reality through processes such as land use, urban planning and enforcement of environmental regulations. I had a chance to talk to an official from Yokohama City Government, who have set up a network of 199 local governments within Japan to allow different municipalities to learn from and share with each other as the country gets to grips with climate change. There were also video contributions – owing to the pandemic – from Maniwa City in Okayama Prefecture, Kitakyushu City in Fukuoka Prefecture, and the Governor of Nagano Prefecture. It is a shame that these were video-only and that there wasn’t much time for interaction, as I had lots of questions I would have liked to have asked each! The case of Maniwa was especially, given that it is a much smaller city with a heavy reliance on forestry for employment. Given its strong links to the timber trade, Maniwa is developing a model for sustainable biomass-based energy production, which aims to create sustainable jobs – and thus a just transition – for forestry workers
Earlier in the day, I also had the pleasure of hearing about AP-PLAT, a new (and just refreshed) platform of climate change adaptation knowledge and data. As well as Japan, AP-PLAT also aims to foster exchange and learning on climate change adaptation across the wider east and south-east Asian region. This fits very well indeed with the increased funding for and interest in supporting adaptation and resilience across Asia laid out in the Government speech after Kishida’s visit. I also learned in this session about the upcoming funding from the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research, remarkably represented by a Scot living in Kobe!
As I’ve found so often when doing research on climate change in Japan, the national-level policy statements are vague and frustrating, but when you hear what’s going on at local level in places that a bit less well known to an international audience, you can sometimes find some fascinating golden nuggets of climate action.