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Asia’s biggest economies aim for net zero targets

Published November 4, 2020

Asia’s biggest economies aim for net zero targets

In the last few weeks, Asia’s three largest economies have all made commitments to achieve net zero, South Korea and Japan by 2050 and China by 2060.

The most recent announcement was on October 28 when South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, pledged to carbon neutrality by 2050. Moon looks to replace coal power with renewable energy; create new markets, industries, and jobs; and promote domestic production of parts and materials, but there aren’t any concrete plans as of yet.

In addition, $7.1 billion will be invested in green projects. Moon has also promised a phase-out of nuclear power by 2060, and the government has begun shutting down ageing coal power plants,

Businesses in South Korea, such as KB Financial Group, Samsung C&T and Kepco, have already taken steps to combat emissions by moving away from coal, which is a big step considering that the country is still heavily reliant on it. However, they are still under criticism for bypassing the nation’s target through involvement with coal in other countries.

According to the Financial Times, South Korea’s energy mix includes only 5% of renewable energy sources, and it is the 7th largest emitter of carbon. Plans are to increase renewable energy to 20% by 2030.

Moon’s announcement comes as part of the Green New Deal, which is focused on investment in clean energy, green infrastructure, and electric vehicles. The deal shall also introduce a carbon tax, aim to end financing of overseas coal plants, and facilitate the creation of urban forests and implementation of recycling, among other measures.

“There is much to be done to make [South Korea’s] declaration actually meaningful. The most urgent tasks are enhancing its 2030 emissions reduction target, presenting a clear roadmap to phase out coal by 2030, and putting a complete stop to coal financing,” said Joojin Kim, managing director of the Seoul-based NGO Solutions for Our Climate, said in a statement printed in The Guardian.

Just a few days before South Korea, Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, announced that Japan will become carbon neutral by 2050.

In his first policy address to parliament since taking office in September 2020, Suga emphasized that assertive measures need to be taken against climate change.

Although, like South Korea, no clear plans have been put in place to reduce carbon emissions, Suga said that Japan would promote the use of renewable energy, accelerate research into technology, and look to change Japan’s reliance on coal, while also looking for ways to incorporate nuclear power more safely.

Dozens of Japan’s nuclear reactors had shut down following Fukushima (only two operate now), and since then the country has had trouble with cutting emissions. Unsurprisingly, the fact that Suga is still considering nuclear is not being met with positive responses.

In a statement published in The Guardian, Sam Annesley, executive director of Greenpeace said, “Nearly 10 years on from Fukushima we are still facing the disastrous consequences of nuclear power, and this radioactive legacy has made clear that nuclear energy has no place in a green, sustainable future.”

In the meantime, in the days since Suga’s announcement, businesses in Japan are already working on taking measures to help the nation reach net zero by 2050. Toyota Motor Corp. looks to cut CO2 emissions by 90% (from 2010 levels) from its new vehicles, while Honda Motor Co. plans to increase sales of electric and fuel-cell vehicles, in proportion of 2/3 to gas-powered ones. At the same time, the steel industry is looking into different methods for steel production that would reduce its carbon emissions.

Japan is the world’s fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter, and while prior to Suga promises were made to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, the country is now joining the Climate Ambition Alliance, which is working towards net zero by 2050.

In the wake of Suga’s announcement, more than 150 local governments, including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Yokohama, have committed to the 2050 target. Japan’s Ministry of the Environment aims to set up a panel of experts to make recommendations on measures and will seek to provide financial assistance to businesses and municipal governments on the pathway to net zero.

Both nations have a long road ahead of them, particularly when it comes to creating a clear and comprehensive roadmap.

Of course, neither can hold a candle to what China is up against. The world’s largest producer of CO2 and the world’s biggest coal consumer (not laudable titles in this day and age) made a commitment last month to achieve net zero by 2060. Although pushed ten years past many nations’ targets, China is still having to adopt drastic measures just to be able to meet its own.

Endeavoring first to each peak CO2 emissions by 2030, China’s 2060 target will require dramatic reductions in the use of fossil fuels, as well as the use of carbon capture technologies to offset the remaining emissions.

The biggest hurdle will no question be coal. For one, it is used for heating in many regions, but on a more substantial level, just last year 58% of China’s total energy consumption and 66% of its electricity generation came from coal.

Again, with such an ambitious commitment, no clear plans have been put in place, although a research group has already presented a roadmap for the next 30 years. China’s Five-Year Plan for 2021–25 is currently being drafted, which may set some short-term targets toward the long-term goal.

As these three nations, the 2nd (China), 3rd (Japan), and 12th (South Korea) largest economies in the world, continue to develop plans towards reaching their respective targets, it will be interesting to see what concrete steps they take and whether more nations will join the Climate Ambition Alliance.