Japan and South Korea pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050

PHOTO CREDIT: Solar panels on the hydrogen research center near Fukushima (Japan). Yasushi Kanno/AP/SIPA

Two days apart, Japan and South Korea announced their desire to be ‘carbon neutral’ by 2050. This was a strong signal from the second- and fourth-largest economies in Asia. Chine had paved the way in late September by pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

In his first speech to Parliament on Monday, October 26, the Japanese Prime Minister demonstrated his willingness to combat climate change. However, in his view, this goal should not conflict with economic growth: “Taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about growth.”

Will Japan keeps its promise? It remains to be seen. The Prime Minister was vague about the measures to reduce the country’s CO2 emissions to zero. He just indicated that he would encourage renewable energies and accelerate research and development into key technologies such as solar batteries and carbon recycling.

However, the path to carbon neutrality risks being fraught with pitfalls. The Japanese economy, ranked fifth in the world in terms of CO2 emissions, is still deeply reliant on fossil fuels, including coal, and Japanese public opinion is extremely reticent to relaunch nuclear energy, nine years after the meltdown of core reactors 1, 2 and 3 at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. According to Japan’s current energy plan, which dates from 2018, 22 to 24% of its energy comes from renewable energy, 20 to 22% from nuclear, and 56% from fossil fuels.

New industries and new jobs

Will South Korea find it easier to achieve the goal? On Wednesday, October 28, Moon Jae-in, its president, pledged to the South Korean Parliament to replace coal with renewable energies, “creating new markets and industries as well as jobs.”  

He announced his intent to invest 8,000 billion wons (6 billion euros) in “Green new deal” projects, such as additional charging stations to power the 116,000 electric and hydrogen vehicles planned by the government next year. 

In the meantime, several large South Korean groups, KB Financial Group, Samsung C&T and Kepco, have already withdrawn their support from coal-fired power plant projects, under pressure from international investors. 


“Japan Pledges to Become Carbon Neutral by 2050,” Earth.org, October 27, 2020 earth.org/japan-carbon-neutral-2050/

“Japan to be carbon neutral by 2050, insists prime minister,” Financial Times, October 26, 2020 www.ft.com/content/6335043f-c4d9-4624-9a69-2df517265c01

“South Korea joins Japan in making 2050 carbon-neutral pledge,” Nikkei Asia, October 28, 2020 asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Environment/South-Korea-joins-Japan-in-making-2050-carbon-neutral-pledge