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By Chrysoula Evangelou, member of the SAFIA Research Team.

Text Supervisor: Georgios Stavropoulos


In 2015, Nations around the word reached a landmark agreement combating climate change and intensifying the necessary actions and investments for a sustainable low carbon future. The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To reach these ambitious goals, appropriate mobilization and provision of financial resources, a new technology framework and enhanced capacity-building are to be put in place; thus, supporting action by developing and most vulnerable countries, in line with their own national objectives. The Paris Agreement requires all parties to put forward their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead. This includes requirements that all Parties report regularly on their transmissions  and implementation efforts (UNFCCC, 2015).

Japan moves towards carbon neutrality 

With the threat of climate change enveloping the entire world, many countries including Japan have announced strategies to become carbon neutral. Although Japan represents the third largest economy in the world and was also ranked the 5th largest energy consumer in 2019, its predominant energy sources are still fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2020). While the country is making efforts transitioning to renewable energy sources, it is still falling behind compared to other developed nations. Also, as a state poor in resources, it heavily relies on imports from foreign countries. Heavy reliance on foreign resources has made Japan volatile to external factors such as the oil crisis in 1973 and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War.

Recently, regarding energy transition policy initiatives, Tokyo is influencing the global trend by leading innovations through the development of hydrogen and fuel cell technology- and also showing its achievements in the global arena (Hickel, 2021). Also, through the Twin Cities Innovation Alliance (TCIA), and by joining a community of climate change group called C40, Tokyo is reshaping European and global policy and politics (Ellerbeck, 2022).

First, Japan is inspiring a global move to transition to renewable energy by investing a large sum of funds for the development of hydrogen fuel cell technology. Japan was the first nation to adopt a national hydrogen framework called ‘Basic hydrogen strategy’ in 2017, which laid out the vision for a common target- aims to produce 3 million tonnes of hydrogen annually by 2030, and 20 million tonnes a year by 2050- that both the private and public sector could follow. Hydrogen tech is also in the spotlight for Japan’s ambitious goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gasses (GHG) emissions by 2050, announced in October 2020. In June 2021, the Japanese government doubled down on hydrogen with an update to the ‘Green growth strategy’ (Roy, 2021).

Furthermore, the prime minister announced at the UN’s Climate Conference of the Parties in Glasgow in November 2021, that the country aims to invest 94 million euros to transform fossil-based energy plants into ones based on ammonia and hydrogen. The country already has 169 hydrogen stations (data from November 2021) which is the highest number in the world at the moment (Roy, 2021). To specify the vision, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government published the Zero Emission Tokyo Strategy in December 2019 as a member of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. The strategy outlines 14 crucial policies which are to  focus on achieving zero net CO2 emission by 2050 (C40 Cities, 2020). Expanding the use of hydrogen energy is one of the key targets so as to adopt 1 million residential and 30MW of commercial and industrial fuel cells, , introduce at least 300 zero emission buses, increase market share of ZEVs to 50% of new passenger car sales, and develop 150 hydrogen stations (C40 Cities, 2020).

Along with joining such international organizations, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government makes use of the academia to promote research on hydrogen fuel cells. The Research Center for a Hydrogen Energy-Based Society (ReHES) at Tokyo Metropolitan University was established at the behest of the city’s  Metropolitan Government. Research and development on hydrogen fuel cells and it’s infrastructure (hydrogen refueling station network, and hydrogen production and carrier systems) are being conducted there. The reason Japan has been investing so much money on hydrogen fuel cell technology is to become the hydrogen tech superpower. On the regional level, Tokyo was making similar efforts as the national government, in order to promote the 2020 Olympics Games not only as a sports event, but also as Hydrogen Olympics in cooperation with the Olympic Committee (FCHEA, 2020). For example, the Olympics flame was fueled by hydrogen, the electricity in Olympic village was powered by hydrogen energy, the buses and cars used to transport athletes were hydrogen fueled vehicles provided by Toyota (News, 2021). 

The Zero Emission Tokyo Strategy – C40 Organization

Tokyo is a member of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. Founded in 2005, it is a group of 97 cities around the world that focuses on combating climate change and driving urban action that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks. The organization facilitates direct technical assistance, peer to peer exchange, and research, knowledge management and communications. It is significant to note that the cities earn their membership through implementation plans  and performance-based requirements instead of membership fees (C40 Official, 2022). The Zero Emission Tokyo Strategy mentioned above was proposed within this organization. Although this global network itself functions as an agenda setter,  Tokyo –as a member–  can also influence other cities by indicating best practice , and policy guidelines  in order to achieve  goals.

Furthermore, another regional cooperation that Tokyo has is the bilateral agreement with New South Wales, Australia. New South Wales is one of the 14 twin cities of Tokyo, and in 2014, the state of NSW entered into a bilateral agreement with Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS); hence, allowing  NSW researchers to access the suite of research visitor programs offered by NIMS that are available only to partner institutions. According to the NSW government: “there is synergy between the NSW and NIMS research communities including in areas of alternative energy technologies, batteries, photonics, quantum materials, biomaterials and many others” (Japan Strategy, 2022). Such cooperation is invigorating the shift to renewable energy globally. Its initiative to share research results can be seen as a positive cooperation among cities that influence international policy making.

Recent data-analysis uncovers how the activities of cities and transnational city networks have gradually broadened the international climate regime, even though cities are not  direct subjects of international law. This Evolving Role of Cities as Non-state Actors, proves the fluidity and interconnection of today’s global governance (Mederake, 2019). As stated by the former New York City Mayor, Mike Bloomberg: «While nations talk, cities act».

In general, the C40 organization has promoted research papers that provide an initial resource for cities in South Africa, the United States and Europe to improve their understanding on just transition in their national/regional context, and the key entry points for engagement on this topic with different stakeholders. They help situate the role of cities in the growing debate around what just transition means at the local level, what actions cities can take and how  to ensure that no one is left behind in the shift to a net-zero resilient economy (C40 Knowledge, 2020). Yet, this transition has an interconnected social dimension. It is therefore essential to ensure that the transition to a net-zero carbon economy will not contribute towards increasing the number of people in difficulty (Ebert, 2020).

Their published reports provide guidance and the necessary tools for each region and define the key principles and concepts of the shift, while demonstrating regional examples of how cities are approaching the topic of just transition, depending on their national and geographical characteristics. Moreover, the published papers can provide practical guidance for cities and support implementation of a just transition at the local level. Additionally, they have published a Climate Action Planning Vertical Integration Guide, in which principles and practices of enabling climate action through vertical integration are explained, while providing the suite of tools and resources which can help city governments to evaluate barriers and opportunities for vertical integration, and support the planning and implementation of strategies to improve it (C40, 2020). 

Acknowledging the importance of research and access to information in current society, Tokyo uses its influence based on publishing data, information, recommendations and advice in order to establish its position as an active non-state actor . As elaborated before, the Tokyo Metropolitan government makes good use of treasure, to invest its funds in hydrogen energy. It is using nodality (the influence due to data and information) to network with other twin cities as well. Furthermore, organizations such as universities, and the Olympic Committee are working together to make its goals into reality (Knill, 2016).

Why is Japan a role model in this  current global energy crisis?

Due to the upcoming global energy crisis and the fear that supply and demand of electricity will be strained this winter, Japan is already taking action in order to reduce its energy demands . The global surge in energy prices triggered by the invasion of Ukraine has dealt a particularly serious blow to Japan, which relies on imports for the majority of its energy resources. According to the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, Japan’s energy self-sufficiency ratio for FY2019 was 12.1%. Among the 36 OECD countries, Japan ranks 35th, a low place . Yet, the Prime Minister Kishida has announced that the nation will operate up to nine nuclear power plants this winter, to ensure that  electricity supply is equivalent to (approximately) 10% of domestic power consumption (Kutty, 2022). The government’s stated aim is for nuclear power to provide 20-22% of electricity by 2030. Before the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011, nuclear energy had accounted for almost 30% of the country’s total electricity production (29% in 2009), from 47.5 GWe of capacity (net) to March 2011, and 44.6 GWe (net) from then. There were plans to increase this to 41% by 2017, and 50% by 2030 (Nuclear, 2022).

For Japan, nearly 90% of crude oil is supplied from the Middle East. Since the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, Japan has diversified energy sources by introducing nuclear energy as well as liquefied natural gas (LNG) and coal. As a result, about 30% of electricity in Japan comes from nuclear power and dependence on oil as primary energy supply has been lowered from 77% in FY1973 to 42% in FY2009 (FEPC). As a result, Japan has already been through an energy crisis, similar to the one that the world is facing currently, due to the Ukrainian War. Additionally, the decision on this nuclear turn is based on the fact that it is an outstanding power source for mitigating global warming. Considering the CO2 emissions intensity over the entire lifecycle of energy sources, CO2 emissions from nuclear power are significantly low (FEPC, n.d.). Japan’s electric power companies have been striving to utilize nuclear power as the key to combining environmental conservation with economic growth and energy security.


All in all, Japan is considered to be an example of innovation and influence in the current global arena. Tokyo is influencing the global trend in energy transitions by leading innovation and showing its achievements in the Olympics. Also, through alliance with twin cities, and joining a community of climate change group, C40; it is undoubtedly shaping European and global policy and politics. Japan appears to be the blueprint by reshaping global politics in the policy area of energy transitions, through technical means and institutional mechanisms. By focusing on research and cutting edge technologies, and forming worldwide alliances the country has influenced the global transition towards a more sustainable future. 


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Ebert, F. (2020). Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and Social Europe. In Just Transition: A Social Route to Sustainability. Retrieved from: here.  

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