Japan has had alternative energy options and reduced carbon emissions on the horizon for a while. After signing the Kyoto Protocol, Japan agreed to reduce carbon emissions from their 1990 levels 6% by 2012, 25% by 2020, and 50% by 2050. However, they planned to achieve that in part by harnessing nuclear energy. After the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and the consequent nuclear meltdown of Fukushima, the Government of Japan (GOJ) decided to rethink its Energy Policy Plan (Iijima 2013). Since then, many of Japan’s nuclear reactors have been shut down while Japan searches for other possible renewable energy sources.
Even before 2011, Japan wanted to increase its biofuel use. In 2006, the government “revised the Biomass Nippon Strategy to emphasize the use of biofuels for transportation” (Iijima 2013). Since then, there have been various tax cuts and subsidies encouraging biofuel use, as well as legislation providing financial assistance to biofuel manufacturers.
These policies haven’t been enough, though. In order for cellulosic biofuel to be a viable option, more research needs to be done on the production of ethanol from these materials since these second generation biofuels are harder to convert to ethanol. Even though there is a huge potential for biofuel production from forest thinning, only 5% of Japan’s energy consumption is from renewable sources (Sasaki 2011).
Luckily, the Japanese government has been approaching biofuel use from a variety of different angles: “The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is promoting biofuel programs from an energy security incentive, while the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is promoting it mainly from the perspective of rural development, and the Ministry of Environment is promoting it for environmental reasons” (Koizumi 2011). If the government can support projects to improve the efficiency of biofuel production, reduce transportation costs, and develop specialized tree species, it would speed up the possibility of using biofuels in the near future.
Many European countries have already been successful in utilizing biofuels. If Japan can implement similar policies, the increased use of biofuels could become a reality. Some examples of policies successful in European countries include the “liberalization of the electricity market, fixed electrical price by renewable energy, renewable energy taxes” (Etoh et al. 2011). The Japanese government did outline certain criteria for biofuel production. The biofuels should limit greenhouse gas emissions without threatening domestic food supply or the forests’ biodiversity. Although it’s crucial that the criteria cover these important ecological issues, it unfortunately doesn’t mention any implications biofuel production might have on cultural aspects of forests, or other important related environmental concerns, such as air and water quality (Koizumi 2011).