• Social Series

Earth Overheating / Once at Forefront, Europe Decelerating Efforts to Decarbonize as Reality Hits Home

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Toyota Motor Corp. operating officer Simon Humphries introduces a prototype of the firm’s LF-ZC vehicle at a Japan Mobility Show press preview in Koto Ward, Tokyo, on Wednesday.

After an extreme summer of “global boiling,” the United Nations is holding its COP28 climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This is the third and final installment of a new series that looks at how climate change is threatening people’s livelihoods and measures being taken globally.

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Efforts to combat climate change are facing headwinds. This is especially noticeable in Europe, which had been at the forefront of global decarbonization measures.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced in September that his administration was pushing back the start of a planned ban on sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles from 2030 to 2035, saying that “it cannot be right for Westminster to impose such significant costs on working people especially those who are already struggling to make ends meet.”

This step will slow the wider adoption of electric vehicles.

The U.K. government had initially taken a more supportive approach to efforts to combat climate change and had twice brought forward the target date for the ban on new gasoline-powered vehicle sales from 2040. However, the high prices of EVs and the ongoing shortage of charging facilities were among the problems that forced the government to step on the brakes.

The chairman of the U.K.’s Independent Motor Dealers Association said that pushing back the start of the ban was a necessary choice.

“I don’t think that the U.K. is ready for EVs,” said Umesh Samani. “I think the government, the majority of them are all out in London, and they don’t get out to the real world.”

Inflation fueled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been major reason behind the reversal of some climate change policies. Decarbonization policies are increasingly being seen as leading to greater pressure on household budgets.

In June, a far-right German political party that opposes far-reaching green policies scored its first-ever district election victory. In the U.K., an opposition party that focused heavily on decarbonization policies struggled in July by-elections, which appears to have been a factor behind the government deciding to delay the ban on selling new gasoline-powered vehicles.

European nations also have been forced to review energy policies that relied heavily on natural gas from Russia. Last winter, France temporarily resumed operation of a coal-fired power plant that had been scheduled to close down.

“If Europe’s leadership on this issue falters, that could even have an impact on COP discussions,” said Hideo Oshima, vice senior economist at the Japan Research Institute, Ltd., referring to the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change that opened Nov.30 in Dubai.

COP28 will feature the first global stocktake, a process that confirms how much progress each participant is making on its efforts to combat global warming. The biggest focus of the conference will be whether measures that straddle the gap between the current reality and nations’ objectives can be drawn up as participants work toward realizing the goals of the Paris Agreement, an international framework for measures to fight global warming.

On Nov. 14, the UNFCCC secretariat released a report stating that even if each nation achieved its greenhouse gas emission reduction target, emissions in 2030 are projected to be only 2% below 2019 levels. This is not even close to the 43% reduction that the Paris Agreement says is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 C above preindustrial levels.

At COP28 are 198 participants representing nations and the European Union. Differences of opinion between advanced nations and emerging and developing countries have frequently surfaced at previous COP discussions, which can pass deals only with unanimous support.

“All of this is a failure of leadership, a betrayal of the vulnerable,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Nov. 20 of the delays in reducing emissions. “Leaders can’t kick the can any further. We’re out of road.”

Japan offers emerging economies ways to ease into decarbonization

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Nov. 28, emphasizing his readiness for the latest U.N. climate change conference.

“I want the rest of the world to know about Japan’s contributions with an eye on decarbonizing Asia, which is responsible for half of global greenhouse gas emissions,” Kishida said. “We will contribute to achieving a decarbonized society by making full use of the country’s technological capabilities.”

A report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that it is necessary for the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to 2019 levels by 43% by 2030, and by 60% by 2035, to achieve the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 C above preindustrial levels.

Only a few countries, such as Japan and the United Kingdom, are progressing on target, and the focus is on whether they can advance their efforts to the emerging and developing nations known as the Global South.

In India and countries in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, energy consumption is expected to increase 30-50% by 2050 compared to 2021 levels.

“It is necessary to promote low-carbon measures that can produce immediate results at first, rather than trying to achieve decarbonization all at once,” said Masayo Tokuhiro, head of the Economic Security Program Coordination Office at NEDO. A government agency under the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, NEDO stands for the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.

Assistance from developed nations is also essential and Japanese companies are expected to make contributions.

Air conditioners account for about 10% of global electricity consumption. In Japan and Europe, the penetration rate of highly energy-efficient inverter air conditioners reaches nearly 100%. This rate, however, is only 10-20% in Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates. The demand for cheap air conditioners without inverters is high and those governments’ energy-saving regulations have failed to catch up with the actual situation.

Major Japanese air conditioner manufacturer Daikin Industries, Ltd. uses its overseas branches to provide support for various nations, such as helping respective governments introduce necessary regulations.

“We want to expand our sales in countries where inverter air conditioners are not widely used,” said Masanori Togawa, the company’s president.

Japanese megabanks cooperate with major banks in other countries to support projects that require hefty investments. In Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest hydrogen plant is being constructed. The country will receive $6.1 billion (about ¥900 billion) in loans, with Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. playing a central role in their provision.

The Japanese government is considering earmarking a budget of about ¥140 billion to support decarbonization projects in the Global South. The government also encourages Japanese companies to enter these markets, aiming for them to aid progress in decarbonization and increase revenue.

“Obviously, it is difficult to achieve the Paris Agreement climate goals under the current circumstances,” said Shoshiro Minobe, a professor of climate science at Hokkaido University. “Since Japan cannot avoid taking on its share of responsibility, the public and private sectors need to cooperate and think about measures to accelerate decarbonization efforts.”