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12/11/2020

Innovation front line: Tackling decarbonization challenges

Japan works to lead global community in fighting climate change

Akira Yoshino takes part in the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum 2020 in Tokyo.
Akira Yoshino takes part in the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum 2020 in Tokyo.

“I may sound a bit philosophical,” Akira Yoshino, a Nobel laureate in chemistry for the development of lithium-ion batteries, said on Oct. 7, starting a discussion on innovative technology that he envisions at the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum 2020 (ICEF 2020), an international conference.

Innovative technology

Japan has come up with the “beyond zero” concept, which seeks to reduce carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, going beyond achieving carbon neutrality around the world. A key to achieving this is in the “historical shift in the concentration of carbon dioxide since the Earth’s creation to present day,” Yoshino said.

“Carbon dioxide concentration on the ancient Earth is believed to have been several tens of percent, but it has decreased to 400 parts per million presently,” Yoshino said. “As carbon dioxide is an acidic substance, it is immobilized by neutralization, but, unfortunately, neutralizing reactions created by substances existing on the ground have ended. One possible way to further neutralize carbon dioxide is to make alkaline substances in the soil that absorb carbon dioxide. Another is photosynthetic organisms. If a major innovation emerges in this area, we should be able to find new possibilities that are different from existing biomass technologies. Personally, I’m interested in algae with high rates of absorption.”

ICEF 2020 was held to promote a global-scale effort to develop such innovative technologies. In addition to discussions from a technological viewpoint, panelists discussed the role the financial industry can play in accelerating innovation. Fiona Reynolds, chief executive officer of the U.N.-supported Principles for Responsible Investment, said companies in not only Europe, but also Asia now commit to net zero (where carbon dioxide emissions and absorption is balanced out) as a comprehensive goal by 2050. This has been made possible by increasing investor engagement from the financial industry.

Tokyo ‘Beyond-Zero’ Week

There were a series of international conferences related to “beyond zero” organized by Japan in a period from late September to early October. The series, titled Tokyo “Beyond-Zero” Week, was aimed at showcasing Japan’s global efforts in tackling global warming.

The TCFD (Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures)summit discussed promotion of climate-related financial disclosure as a basis for private-sector investment. At this summit , the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced 320 Japanese companies that were recognized for their active efforts in environmental innovation. Japan aims to encourage investors in Japan and overseas to provide funding based on TCFD disclosure information.

Research and Development 20 is a forum of leaders from research organizations in the area of clean energy. It provides a framework for discussion, mainly among the Group of 20 countries, which account for about 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. In the second meeting this year, participants agreed to prepare for the formation of joint international research initiatives.

Research and Development 20 brings together leaders of clean energy technology research organizations.
Research and Development 20 brings together leaders of clean energy technology research organizations.
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