The Paris Agreement was adopted five years ago. December 2015 – December 2020: five years during which governments, businesses, cities and citizens worldwide accelerated their efforts to address the global challenge of climate change.
These first five years of existence of the Paris Agreement were only the beginning: a lot remains to be done to keep the planet under 1.5°C by the end of the century. The EU and Japan now both aim at an ambitious but necessary intermediary goal: reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.
During this online roundtable held on 8th December 2020, speakers from Europe and Japan illustrated what the Paris Agreement has changed for them and their organizations. They also explored together the path towards net zero emission in 2050, through the examples of public policies, business initiatives, youth engagement, science and international cooperation.
Speakers and panelists
Opening remarks: Pr. Tomoko UEKI, President of Doshisha University | M. Daisaku KADOKAWA, Mayor of Kyoto | Ms. Ina LEPEL, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Japan
Panel discussion: M. Daisaku KADOKAWA, Mayor of Kyoto | Ms. Patricia FLOR, Ambassador of the European Union to Japan | M. Philippe SETTON, Ambassador of France to Japan | Pr. Yoshihiko WADA, Doshisha University | M. Isao SAKAI, organizer of Fridays for Future Japan | M. Ken-ichi ISHIDA Ph.D., managing officer in charge of Environment Improvement, Sekisui House | Ms. Mariko MCTIER, co-founder & representative director, Social Innovation Japan; co-founder of mymizu | Moderator: Pr. Kazuhiko TAKEMOTO, President, Overseas Environment Cooperation Center; Project Professor, Institute for Future Initiatives, the University of Tokyo
Closing remarks: Dr. Ana Polak PETRIČ, Ambassador of Slovenia to Japan | M. Giorgio STARACE, Ambassador of Italy to Japan | Pr. Kazuhiko TAKEMOTO
The biographies of the panelists are available on the event’s agenda page.
Opening the event, President Tomoko Ueki of Doshisha University highlighted the long-lasting relationship between Doshisha University and Europe, dating back to 1872 and illustrated more recently with the opening of a European campus in Germany in 2017. The university supports new initiatives for the environment, such as the new centre opened this year to research new technologies for CO2 reduction and energy efficiency. Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa of Kyoto went back to 1997 and told us about the adoption of Kyoto Protocol, the first agreement of its kind in human history, and a springboard for the Paris Agreement that was adopted 18 years later. He was joined in this by Ambassador Ina Lepel of Germany, who also insisted on Kyoto Protocol’s legacy. She reminded us of the strong interconnection between human behavior and the natural environment, as illustrated this year with the global pandemic of COVID-19. Ambassador Lepel welcomed Prime Minister Suga’s recent pledge for a climate neutral Japan in 2050, and mentioned the EU’s similar target. The EU and Japan can work together for further cooperation in sectors such as offshore wind and green hydrogen. In order to achieve the targets, support from civil society, through initiatives such as Fridays for Future, and from private businesses is needed.
During the panel discussion, each of the seven panelists first introduced their organization’s activities and efforts for climate, five years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement.
Mayor Kadokawa of Kyoto explained how the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement, also led to local initiatives by Kyoto citizens, who increased their efforts against global warming. Schools in Kyoto have programs to reduce their CO2 emissions, and despite the massive increase in tourism over the recent years, energy consumption and waste volume have been reduced. Transport also became more sustainable, with a decrease of individual cars and an increase of public transport usage. Kyoto City adopted a target of zero emission by 2050 – a goal now shared by more than 170 other Japanese municipalities.
EU Ambassador Patricia Flor introduced the European Union’s policies for climate, reminding that the EU and its member-states will uphold the Paris Agreement. It is a demand from the citizens and a growing number of businesses in Europe, and it is the right thing to do. The EU Green Deal will transform the European economy into a resource efficient and modern economy, towards becoming the first climate neutral continent by 2050. This will create new jobs and boost competitiveness. Renewable energy will be developed further to provide a clean affordable energy, as fossil fuels need to end. In transport, Europe will shift to low or zero emission vehicles. As proven by the recent climate disasters – fires and typhoons, concrete action for the realization of the Paris Agreement is urgent: “We need to act now and together, because there’s no planet B for humankind.”
Ambassador Philippe Setton of France reminded us of “the spirit of Paris”, the huge mobilization of the entire international community that led to the successful adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. This was the result of more than 20 years of climate negotiation, in which Kyoto Protocol was a major step. But a lot still needs to be done to limit global warming to 1.5 degree by the end of the century. “We need to do more and we need to do it faster”: the priority must now be to translate the current commitments into concrete public policies, and to raise the ambitions.
Professor Yoshihiko Wada from Doshisha University introduced the concept of ecological footprint, that includes carbon footprint. This compares the capacity of the planet to the resources needed by human activity. The current level of human activity requires 1.7 planets, and will reach 2 planets within 10 years if the current trend continues. The economy and consumption patterns need to change. But it was shown that in Japan, students are set to not take action even after having received environmental knowledge through their studies. Professor Wada thus conducted a project, to help students understand about their individual impact, and individual power for transformation. This led to concrete actions by students, and intentions to take further actions – strongly suggesting that raising the awareness of individual life’s impact is a powerful tool to drive transformation.
Isao Sakai introduced Fridays for Future Japan, launched in 2018 to work on two objectives: individual change and systemic change, towards stronger climate action in Japan. In order to achieve this, Fridays for Future Japan conducts initiatives to increase literacy of Japanese youth about climate change issues. The organization also appeals to policy makers through public actions (marches, petitions) to raise awareness about the need for stronger policies for climate. According to Isao Sakai, the next decade will be crucial, and the decision that will be made in Japan in 2021 on its energy mix and its NDC will have a great impact. Changes are needed now to achieve decarbonization by 2030 and 2050.
Representing the business sector, Ken-ichi Ishida from Sekisui House introduced the environmental efforts of his company, from adopting a “Future declaration on the environment” in 1999 to joining RE100 in 2017, SBT in 2018, and launching a Zero Energy House in 2020. In 2019, Sekisui House could reduce by nearly 83% the CO2 emissions for their newly built houses, compared to 1999 levels. The company is present in five countries besides Japan, and can witness the differences in culture making it more challenging to introduce more sustainable products on the global market.
Mariko McTier then illustrated concrete initiatives launched to support the efforts in Japan towards greater sustainability. Considering that Japan has the technology and human resources needed to play a larger role in this area, she started Social Innovation Japan, an organization aiming at raising awareness and sharing best practices through workshops. One topic that emerged from these workshops was the issue of market readiness for circular economy in Japan. Based on this, Social Innovation Japan launched mymizu, a free mobile app that allows users to reduce their consumption of single-use plastic bottles. Several major companies and local governments in Japan now support and use mymizu.
After these initial presentations, the panelists engaged in a discussion with the moderator for this event, Professor Kazuhiko Takemoto from Overseas Environment Cooperation Center and University of Tokyo, around two main themes:
- What has the Paris Agreement changed in Europe and Japan, in connection to the legacy of the Kyoto Protocol?
- What are the next steps needed to reach carbon neutrality in 2050 and to limit global warming to 1.5 degree celsius by 2100?
The comments of the panelists on these questions can be found in the video recording of the event available above (from minute 42).
In conclusion of the event, Ambassador Petrič of Slovenia, representing the 2021 EU Presidency, reminded the urgency to act to change the course of climate change and the crucial role of international cooperation. “European countries and Japan can be the pioneers”: they have the economic, scientific and technological capacities, and can achieve together the goal of carbon neutrality in 2050. Ambassador Starace of Italy, representing the co-presidency of COP26 where enhanced climate ambitions are expected, insisted on the strong alignment between the EU and Japan’s approach – a green transformation which is also a source of new economic opportunities. European companies are already recognized as global champions in sectors such as renewable energy and circular economy.
Finally, Professor Takemoto, moderator of the event, wrapped-up with an highlight of the key messages shared by the speakers: connection between the EU and Japan on climate change, potential for stronger cooperation in several areas, the importance of youth engagement and work with citizens, and the need to have a long-term and persistent action towards the future.
Due to time constraints, the questions from the audience could not be replied live during the event. However, comments from speakers and organizers have been gathered after the event, and are published below.
Q1. What is the role of businesses in achieving carbon neutrality ? What could be the contribution of “B Corps” (benefit corporations)?
A1. Reply from Ken-ichi Ishida, Sekisui House: The significance of a company’s existence is social contribution. However, because we need to continue our business, we also need to continue to make profits. Therefore, it is necessary to make social contribution a business. For example, selling zero-energy houses is a business that contributes to the prevention of global warming.
Q2. How is COVID-19 impacting and will affect sustainability or carbon neutrality goals?
A2. Reply from Ambassador Dr Petrič, Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia: Pandemic will most probably have both effects, negative and positive, on sustainability and carbon neutrality goals. Since there will be economic struggle and drop in GDPs, it is possible that the first goal of the economy will be to recover. However, the positive impact of pandemic is that States and people are becoming more aware of the need to protect themselves from natural and other disasters, most of all from climate change and environmental catastrophes. Post COVID recovery is thus a turning point- economy will recover but how? Now is the right time to encourage the “green recovery” of the economy in our States and globally.
Q3: How will the EU and Japan’s 2050 carbon-neutral goals affect the business of private companies in Japan (especially GHG reporting, product innovation, and regulatory status)?
A3: Reply from Ken-ichi Ishida, Sekisui House: Until now, Japan had not set a clear goal of decarbonization for 2050. Therefore, market formation was uncertain, and private companies could not make bold investment in mass production even if they developed technology. Now, with this new clear goal of carbon neutrality in 2050, emission regulations for automobiles and electric power are being considered, and we believe that an environment will be created in which private companies can invest with confidence. Therefore, I think Japanese businesses can now catch up with the delay on environmental efforts.
Q4. Can organizations display more leadership and example by providing their representatives with more sustainable living arrangements?
A4. Reply from Ambassador Dr Petrič, Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia: Definitely. Role models are very important and politicians and diplomats should raise awareness by setting good examples. It is important to talk about sustainability, but it is even more important to live it. This means we have to change our lifestyles. For Slovenian Embassy in Tokyo I can assure that we use cars as little as possible. I and the diplomats walk or use bicycles from home to work, we have just bought an electric bicycle to encourage other Embassy staff to use it instead of cars. These are small steps, but still important.
A4. Reply from Stéfan Le Dû, EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation: As organizer of this event as well as more climate related events coming in 2021, we are fully aware of the importance of showing a good example with the organization of our events. For this reason, we are making all our events, as well as our website, climate neutral: all the CO2 emissions generated by these activities are offset, by supporting financially several sustainable projects in various parts of the world. For example, for this event held on 8th December, the CO2 emissions were offset through supporting an hydropower project in Indonesia.
Q5: In Japan, many companies seem to prioritize economic efficiency and consumers seem to prioritize low prices over environmental consideration. How do you think it is affecting the climate targets?
A5: Reply from Ken-ichi Ishida, Sekisui House: I think that it is basically a matter of education, however in the end regulations may be needed for stronger effects. For example, in Japan, trains have priority seats for the elderly and people with disabilities. This is known by everyone. However, many people ignore this and use these priority seats, and the reality is that it is not 100% functional. Therefore, education alone cannot solve the problem. I think we need a mechanism to achieve our goals, such as making some environmental efforts mandatory, or introducing carbon pricing.
Q6. What do you think about the introduction of a carbon tax and its influence on the energy policy of the EU Member States?
A6. Reply from Heidi Hiltunen, Delegation of the EU to Japan: In the EU we have opted for an Emissions Trading Scheme – the EU ETS – which is an efficient way to apply the ‘polluter pays’ principle and to encourage investments into decarbonization technologies.
Q7. Under the Paris agreement, ETS carbon prices worldwide would need to reach a price range of $40-80 a ton by 2020. But the EU ETS, which has the highest carbon price in the world, is in the $20-30 range. What further efforts the EU ETS should make to reach the target carbon price, and how the EU ETS should integrate with ETS markets around the world to raise the carbon price so that the ETS can drive the engine of low-carbon technology investment and development?
A7. Reply from Heidi Hiltunen, Delegation of the EU to Japan: The EU ETS has gone through several reforms to enhance its functioning and we have seen a rise in the carbon price as a result in recent years. Further reform of the EU is also foreseen as part of the EU’s measures to ensure carbon neutrality by 2050. The European Commission will present a legislative proposal by June 2021.
Q8. What is the EU’s view on the relationship between carbon neutrality and the circular economy?
A8. Reply from Gabriele Lo Monaco, Delegation of the EU to Japan: When looking at measures to address climate change, renewable energies and energy-efficiency measures play undoubtedly a key role. However, as the manufacturing of products represents a significant share of total emissions, recent analyses focusing on major industrial products shows that applying circular economy strategies to four key materials (cement, steel, plastic and aluminum) could help reduce emissions by 40% in 2050. Circular economy has a great potential to contribute to the objective of climate neutrality.
Q9. I imagine that the younger generation today feels pressured by the responsibility of not taking action because it is easier for them to take action toward social change through social media and other means. Do you feel a division between students who act and those who do not? Also, is there anything you would like to tell students who are under pressure to take action?
A9. Reply from Isao Sakai, Fridays for Future Japan: I definitely think that we could be regarded as highly conscious (which does not always mean good in Japanese connotation) when we deliver socially minded messages online. In such a case, I think there could be a gap between those who speak up and those who don’t. Regarding such a situation, I think we need to make it easier to take action for social issues, especially climate change. Making actions cooler and more attractive is important to draw attention and invite more people to be a part of the movement. When they are in, I think they soon build the knowledge and sense of urgency. Since this issue is so severe that there is not much time left for us, we can easily lose motivation feeling the threatening compulsion to take action. In order to tackle the crisis, it is more important to sustainably take action rather than to burn out. To people who are taking actions, I want them never to forget to take care of themselves and find their own pace in their actions.
This event was organized with the financial support of the European Union’s Partnership Instrument. The opinions expressed are the sole responsibility of the organizer and speakers, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
Delegation of the European Union to Japan
EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation
Embassy of France in Japan
European Union’s Partnership Instrument
Embassy of France in Japan
Climate neutral event