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4 September, 2017

Round Table Studying the Energy Situation toward 2050 Begins Deliberations

On August 30, the first meeting was held of a roundtable of experts studying the energy situation, established at the initiative of the head of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). The aim of the roundtable is to consider the long-term energy picture considering the new international framework created by the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions.

The roundtable’s objective is to hear opinions from a wide range of experts and specialists in pursuit of all feasible options for meeting Japan’s national goal of reducing its GHG emissions by eighty percent by 2050, in a manner that realizes both global warming measures and economic growth.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Strategic Policy Committee, under the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy—addressing the nation’s composition of power sources (the so-called “energy mix”) to 2030—had begun working on August 9. Both groups will put forward their general conclusions by the end of the current fiscal year (that is, by March 31, 2018).

At the first meeting of the roundtable, representatives of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) first summarized changes in the energy situation in the wake of the giant earthquake that struck Japan in 2011, identifying points to be addressed. In terms of its course of action, it said that once the global energy picture toward 2050 is clarified, it will “develop a strategic vision for the nation, system and industry that can demonstrate leadership in technological innovation, investment in human resources, and international contributions.”

The members of the roundtable then expressed various views. Looking back on national arguments at that time, Professor Junko Edahiro of the Department of Environmental Management of Tokyo City University—who had earlier served on another committee reviewing energy policy after the 2011 earthquake disaster—called on the roundtable to “talk with a diverse range of people” from various regions and the public.

Another member, Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman and CEO of Hitachi, Ltd., spoke about energy issues from the perspective of manufacturers. Domestically, he said, electricity demand is declining, and there is a tendency in overseas markets to hold off on making investments due to problems in developing advanced nuclear power plants (NPPs). He urged discussions “with an overall understanding of the situation, rather than each issue separately.”

Meanwhile, another member, Yoichi Funabashi, chairman of the Asia Pacific Initiative (and who had launched the Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident), pointed out that there were deep-rooted objections in Japan to restarting NPPs. He added that “diversity” was an important consideration when addressing long-term national energy policy.

Additionally, another member, Masahiro Sakane, a councilor of Komatsu Ltd. and chairperson of the Strategic Policy Committee, expressed his sense of crisis over the depletion of fossil fuels. He said, “During the lifetimes of today’s children, oil supplies will definitely be exhausted, and the same will be true of gas. Only a small amount of coal will remain.” Regarding renewable energy technology, he emphasized that alternative energies are not yet ready, and that for them to be at the level of commercial use by 2050, “they need to be accelerated now.”

Another member to voice opinions was Professor Takashi Shiraishi, president of the Institute of Developing Economies (IDE). He spoke about such issues as technological innovation in emerging countries and political unrest in the Middle East.

Lastly, President Makoto Gonokami of the University of Tokyo talked about the development of human resources and the use of “big data,” among other things.

After listening to the members, METI Minister Hiroshige Seko expressed confidence that significant discussions would follow. He said that it would be necessary to have many-sided discussions embracing such issues as geopolitical aspects, global warming issues, and corporate management strategies.

The next meeting of the roundtable will listen to the views of various overseas experts and specialists.

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