Our new life shifting to a decarbonized society

 January 15, 2021

Our new life shifting to a decarbonized society

Masami Tsuji
Professor, Graduate School of Governance Studies, Professional Graduate School,
Meiji University
 

Countries across the world, including Japan, are currently making various efforts to curb global warming. Building a decarbonized society is one of these efforts. However, these efforts are not something we can leave entirely to the government and are difficult to achieve unless individual citizens are involved.
The world has a strong sense of crisis about global warming

Many people are aware of the effects of global warming as they have already been talked about in various forms.

For example, Japan has seen increasing incidents of extreme weather conditions and large typhoons in recent years, which are believed to be due in part to the high surface temperature of the oceans. In other words, this is caused by global warming, and it is also affecting our daily life.

This phenomenon is not limited to Japan; it is happening worldwide, and each country is working on countermeasures with a sense of crisis. For example, over 196 countries and regions joined in the Paris Agreement adopted in 2015.

The central objective of the Paris Agreement is “to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as its global long-term goal.”

The pre-industrial period is used as a benchmark because industrialization by the industrial revolution increased fossil fuel consumption by humans, which led to increases in greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide. In other words, we can say that current global warming is progressing owing to human-made activities.

What will happen to the earth if this situation continues? Since industrialization, such as that of the industrial revolution, human activities have caused a temperature increase of about 1°C. Although this may seem like a mere 1°C, Arctic sea ice has declined, and as mentioned earlier, it has increased the likelihood of extreme weather conditions and powerful typhoons.

At the current rate of progress, the average global temperature increase is expected to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2050, and it will continue to rise after that.

The temperature increase will affect the Antarctic ice and the permafrost of the tundra. The permafrost traps methane gas, a greenhouse gas, which would further accelerate global warming if released. The sea level will continue to rise, and much of today’s low-lying areas may submerge.

Moreover, what is feared now are tipping points. The tipping points are turning points, where tiny changes could lead to drastic changes.

It means that while various climate changes and environmental changes are underway with gradual global warming, these changes could cause severe and irreversible changes once it surpasses a certain level.

For example, one day, the Greenland ice sheet could collapse, which would have various effects, including rising sea levels, and is considered to be irreversible for thousands of years.

Therefore, the Paris Agreement has led to a global consensus to pursue efforts to limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5°C in the long term.

The specific measures to achieve this goal are left to each country, and Japan set out a long-term goal of 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in the Plan for Global Warming Countermeasures in 2016, which was also mentioned in the Fifth Basic Environment Plan formulated in 2018.

In his policy speech to the Diet on October 26, 2020, Prime Minister Suga went even further, pledging that Japan aims to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, that is, to become a carbon-neutral, decarbonized society by 2050.
The Fifth Basic Environment Plan aims to resolve economic and social issues simultaneously
Japan has the Basic Environment Law, which outlines the general direction of Japan’s environmental policies. The Basic Environment Plan was drawn up based on the Basic Environment Law.

The basic concepts of the Fifth Basic Environment Plan are to create the innovation of all perspectives, mainly in the three areas of socio-economic systems, lifestyles, and technology, and to solve economic and social challenges simultaneously by utilizing the concepts of SDGs.

In other words, we need to solve global warming simultaneously as a challenge across all areas surrounding us instead of the conventional view that global warming is a problem in the environmental field and that specialists in the field should make the effort to solve it. If we do not solve the challenges simultaneously, we will not be able to achieve a decarbonized society.

For example, socio-economic systems are the activities or structures of society itself. It includes companies’ economic activities and development of a framework for national and local government policies and measures.

Lifestyles mean precisely the life of each individual.

Sometimes, socio-economic systems solve lifestyle issues, while other times, the needs and desires of individuals become challenges of the socio-economic systems, and the socio-economic systems change to meet those needs and desires.

For example, charging for plastic bags is a measure to reduce plastic waste, and our lifestyle will change accordingly.

However, as we gradually created the feeling in society that walking around with a plastic bag was uncool and would be considered as having low ecological consciousness, it has led to the policy of charging for plastic bags.

In short, it is not a matter of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Still, creating synergy between the socio-economic systems and lifestyle improvements leads to part of a broader framework for addressing global environmental issues.

Furthermore, technology is an important field. The Fifth Basic Environment Plan stipulates the importance of creating innovations across all perspectives, stating “one important role that future environmental policies can serve is to create innovations, including incremental improvements of existing goods and services, as well as those that are outside the reach of conventional technologies and systems.”

In other words, it is crucial not only to improve existing technologies but also to develop new technologies beyond current ones.

This technological development means innovations that change our lifestyles as well as our socio-economic systems.
It is necessary to create new styles instead of expecting to continue as is
Achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is an ambitious goal.

We tend to think that we should just switch to renewable energy from fossil fuels promptly, but the reality is that it is still challenging to provide a stable power supply from renewable energy with existing technologies.

That is why we need to develop practical new technologies, but at the same time, we should not expect that we will continue to live the same life as we do now or that we will continue to consume the same amount of energy as we do now. Instead, we may choose a new lifestyle, an enjoyable life that uses less energy than we do now.

For example, use digital media instead of paper, travel by bicycle instead of by car, and do telework, etc. Or the workplace may become closer to home in the form of satellite offices or shared offices. These changes may promote work-style reforms, society, and town planning.

The important thing then is that there is no need to think we have to put up with more in life to save energy. That is because, whether it is self-imposed or regulated by national and local government, a lifestyle that we are forced to tolerate or go against our will often does not last long.

For example, during 2020, many people have been forced to stay at home owing to COVID-19, and it is up to us to decide whether we become frustrated, feeling suffocated and lonely, or find pleasure such as connecting with friends online, taking a walk around our home while teleworking, discovering stores we never noticed, and rediscovering insects, birds, or plants in the park.

If we enjoy our new lifestyle instead of thinking that our old familiar life is better, it may be a little easier for us to choose a new lifestyle.

In that sense, COVID-19 could be an opportunity for us to choose something new.

In fact, the EU is trying to boost the post-COVID-19 green recovery initiatives that aim for a decarbonized society, rather than returning to the pre-COVID-19 society and lifestyle. Prime Minister Suga pledged in his policy speech that Japan would lead the world’s green industry to create a virtuous cycle between the economy and the environment.

We cannot yet be sure what kind of society the EU will become, but it is possible to shift our lives towards a decarbonized and circular society. If a new need arises, it may drive companies to create a new society.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to practically zero by 2050 is an unattainable goal in the current situation. However, we should not give it up as an impossible goal to achieve. By building upon advances, even if they are small, we will get closer to achieving the goal. Tough times bring opportunity!



* The information contained herein is current as of December 2020.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.


Masami Tsuji
Professor, Graduate School of Governance Studies, Professional Graduate School, Meiji University
 
Research fields:
Environmental Governance, Safeguard Policy

Research themes:
Safeguard policies in international financing institutions, environmental impact assessment in developing countries

Main books and papers:
◆“Kaiyo Plastic Gomi ni kansuru Kokusai-teki Dokou” (Global Governance on Marine Plastic Litter and Microplastics) Meiji University, “Governance Studies”, 2020
◆“Rolling Out Air Quality Management in Asia”(Asian Development Bank), “Strategies for Poverty Reduction through Urban Environmental Improvement” (Asian Development Bank)

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