Japan’s Plans for Electric Vehicle Transition by 2035 May Not Reduce Their CO2 Emissions as Expected

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Scientists from Kyushu University in Japan are saying that the country’s plan to phase out gasoline cars by the year 2035 might not cut down on CO2 emissions as much as they hoped. Instead of just switching to fully electric cars, Japan also wants to keep using hybrid cars, which still burn some gas. The problem is, this could actually make CO2 emissions go up for a while, not down like they wanted, making it harder for Japan to become carbon neutral.

The scientists from Kyushu University point out that while Japan’s aim to stop selling new gasoline cars is a good step, it’s not enough by itself. To really make a difference, the government needs to do more than just switch cars; it has to clean up the way electricity is made and the way cars are produced. Even the electric and hybrid cars need to last longer so they don’t have to be replaced as often. Otherwise, Japan will have a tough time lowering the amount of CO2 it puts out, which is a big part of the country’s goal to not add to the world’s climate problems.

Most places around the world are trying to figure out how to stop hurting the environment so much, especially when it comes to the air we breathe. Japan is on board with this and is making a rule to stop selling gas-powered cars by 2035. The idea is to move to cars that don’t pollute as much: electric ones (EVs), hybrids (HVs), and those fueled by hydrogen (FCVs). But to make this change really count in the fight against global warming, Japan has to make sure these cars and the power they use are as clean as possible.

Professor Shigemi Kagawa from Kyushu University’s Faculty of Economics has found something important and talked about it in his latest research paper for the Journal of Cleaner Production. He says that even though Japan is trying to do the right thing by planning to stop selling new gasoline cars, this step alone probably won’t get Japan to their big goal of cutting down on CO2 enough to really help with climate change.

Kagawa explains, “”Our team focused on how much CO2 is produced during a car’s entire lifetime, from the first resource extracted from the earth to when it gets destroyed. Looking at the lifecycle CO2, or LC-CO2, of a car allow us to take a larger view on a car’s emissions.”

The scientists have come up with a list of important things Japan needs to work on if they really want to cut down on car-related CO2 emissions. Firstly, they need to be sure that all the materials and parts used in making the cars are also eco-friendly – basically, the entire process of creating a car needs to go green. Moreover, Japan’s power plants need to start using cleaner energy sources because the electricity that charges the electric cars shouldn’t be coming from polluting sources. And lastly, cars need to be built to last longer so that we aren’t constantly making more, which adds to pollution.

Professor Kagawa puts it bluntly when he says, “Making a car uses up a ton of energy right from the get-go. We’ve got to mine raw materials from the earth, process these materials, ship them around, and then build the car. And all of that – every single step – sends CO2 up into our atmosphere.” He points out something startling: creating an electric vehicle (EV) can release 1.5 to 2 times more CO2 than making a regular gasoline car. So if car companies just start cranking out electric cars without cleaning up the manufacturing process, we’re not going to see the drop in emissions we’re hoping for.

To really help the environment, it’s not just about the cars we drive but also about where the electricity comes from. For Japan, most of their power still comes from burning stuff like coal and oil, which isn’t good for the planet. In fact, in 2020, 76% of Japan’s electricity was made this way, which is a lot. They did have about 20% coming from cleaner energy like wind and solar, but that’s not enough. The thing is, even if everyone in Japan started driving electric cars, the electricity to charge them would still mostly come from these dirty sources. That means, even with all these electric cars, the air still gets polluted.

Professor Kagawa gets straight to the point about Japan’s current energy plans. He says, “Japan’s thinking of keeping 50% fossil fuels and only 28% renewable energy by 2030. That’s not enough to really cut down the lifetime carbon footprint of cars. The goal to switch to electric vehicles by 2035 is only expected to cut vehicle emissions by 2.9 million tons of CO2 by 2050, which is like trying to solve a huge math problem with a tiny calculator—it doesn’t add up to zero emissions.” He argues that Japan should be more ambitious and aim for what the International Energy Agency suggests: slash fossil fuel use to just 10% and boost renewable energy to 88% by 2050. If Japan did that, Kagawa’s calculations show we could save an extra 3.4 million tons of CO2 from cars each year by 2050—double the current target.

Bottom line, if we can make cars last even a year longer than the usual 13 years, it’ll seriously lower how much CO2 Japan puts out. The smart folks running the numbers say keeping a car from 1993 to 2050 out of the junkyard for an extra year could slash up to 90 million tons of CO2. On the flip side, if cars get trashed a year sooner, it’s bad news because CO2 emissions would climb by about the same amount.

“When we expanded our model to extending the lifespan of a vehicle by 10 years, the potential reduction in CO2 emissions can be more than 600 Mt,” Kagawa states.

The researchers really want their findings to light a fire under Japan’s leaders to put these big changes into action. They believe if the country follows their advice, Japan can seriously take on climate change and stick to its promise of having no extra carbon in the air by 2050.

Professor Kagawa wraps it up with some advice that everyone can act on. He says, “We can all chip in by not driving our cars as much and by keeping them around for a couple more years, maybe even buying second-hand instead of brand new.” He adds that it’s not just on us, though. The government should make it worth our while to join programs that help cut down on driving, and car companies need to make it easier and cheaper to fix our rides instead of ditching them. He points out, “Dealing with climate change isn’t simple, but smart rules can make a big difference and set us up for a better tomorrow.”