as a partner for securing essential natural resources and protecting the climate
01 — The key questions for the Partner-Atlas
RELEVANCE: What relevance does Japan have for Germany with regards to "securing essential natural resources and protecting the climate"?
For Germany, Japan is one of the most important partners in Asia, in terms of economic relations and common values. In addition to the determination to maintain and enhance the multilateral order together, there is also the desire for closer cooperation in future technologies. Japan and Germany face similar challenges, particularly with regard to the future of manufacturing and the demographic development of their societies.
Businesses based in both countries share the growing interest in collaborating in key technologies, such as artificial intelligence, digitisation, mobility and renewable energies. Japan is also Germany’s second most important trading partner in Asia. The volume of trade between Germany and Japan has grown continuously since 2009 (BMWi).
The free trade agreement between the EU and Japan, which came into force at the beginning of 2019, also offers great opportunities to further expand this close economic relationship.
The agreement also contains a sustainability chapter, giving both countries the opportunity for joint action in the future. Climate protection is no longer a niche topic in Japan: during his G20 presidency, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe made climate protection the focus of his agenda.
Japan clearly feels the consequences of climate change, and the climate protection goals will not be achieved without a drastic change in policy. The Japanese government’s energy plan also stipulates the need to develop more efficient and connected energy systems. However, in terms of the already available technologies, the challenges and costs to implement such systems remain high. Herein lies enormous potential for cooperation: joint solutions that offer innovative and flexible integration of different energy sources. Such solutions are the key to converting traditional energy sources into renewable ones. Joint research into technologies for energy storage, batteries, grid regulation and hydropower could be important components of the cooperation between the two countries.
WILLINGNESS: To what extent is Japan willing to work with Germany in realising this interest?
Energy security as well as stable and affordable electricity prices are priorities for Japan’s policy-makers and the Japanese population. Therefore, the government – under the leadership of the conservative LDP – will hold on to fossil fuels for a long time to come, and gradually power up the reactors that were shut down after the disaster in Fukushima. Nuclear power and coal will initially remain integral parts of Japan’s energy supply. It is unlikely that there is a political majority for an accelerated phase-out of these sources of energy.
However, holding on to conventional energy sources is prompting an intensified debate on climate protection. How can the equation of energy security, economic growth and climate protection be solved in the future? In trying to come up with an answer to this question, Japan is looking towards Germany. With its “energy transition“, Germany has set an example to the world and is recognised, in Japan and elsewhere, as a pioneer of renewable energy technologies. Therefore, Japanese research institutions and government departments are seeking closer cooperation in research and application.
The economic fallout of the Covid pandemic is, of course, also being felt in Japan, putting a huge burden on companies and the government budget. Nevertheless, for the time being, research on alternative forms of energy and the implementation of the energy plan remain exempt from any cutbacks.
STATUS QUO: How close is Germany and Japan's current cooperation in this area?
In the past, Japan was not exactly the country to which Germany turned to in search of energy and climate protection partnerships. Japan’s reliance on nuclear energy and coal seemed too much of a given. However, in order to reduce CO2 emissions in the future, the Japanese government needs to look at alternative and climate-friendly forms of energy.
That is why Japan is breaking new ground in the production of domestic hydrogen and considers itself a global pioneer. By having hydrogen as its main energy source in the future, Japan wants to achieve the Paris climate protection goals and significantly reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels. By 2040, Japan plans to shift the energy supply of its entire industry to hydrogen, and by 2050, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent.
In Germany, people are still skeptical about hydrogen production because it is energy-intensive and far from being CO2-neutral. Their skepticism is justified – it is enormously expensive to produce and transport hydrogen and the technology is far from being mature. Japan, however, assumes that large-scale plants for hydrogen production could be available by the beginning of 2030. According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Trade and Industry (METI), production will then amount to 300,000 tons per year. If Japan were to use renewable energies such as wind power and solar energy for producing hydrogen, this would be a very promising starting point for joint projects.
POTENTIAL: What is the potential for strengthening the partnership between Germany and Japan in this area?
Research on the broad use of hydrogen in Germany has intensified recently. Initially, only few municipal companies and car manufacturers showed an interest in using this energy source. Through the introduction of the federal government’s hydrogen strategy in June 2020, Germany demonstrated that it also wants to be among the pioneers of hydrogen technologies.
According to Japanese researchers, trains and aircraft will soon be hydrogen-powered. Toyota is sponsoring research on the use of hydrogen in tractors, refrigerated transporters, large long-haul trucks and in heavy-duty harvesting machines. The energy density of a filled hydrogen tank is between 100 and 200 times higher than that of a lithium-ion battery.
Today, hydrogen is already being used in fuel-cell vehicles and in industrial applications. However, it would not make much sense to use hydrogen as a fuel for motor vehicles alone. Rather, it is much more useful as an intermediate storage medium for renewable energy. According to experts, the use of hydrogen is only effective in the context of expanding new energy sources.
Ultimately, it is the idea to combine renewable energy sources to produce hydrogen that has made the technology attractive. Individual companies are already working on producing hydrogen in a way that is both resource efficient and highly efficient. While, in Germany, experiments have so far focused mostly on electrolysis, sewage sludge or sea water, Japanese companies are trying to extract hydrogen from plastic waste. All these efforts are geared towards the goal of producing hydrogen in a way that is as climate-neutral as possible – which offers a huge potential for targeted and intensive cooperation.
POLICY RECOMMENDATION: What in German foreign policy has to change in order to fully exploit this potential?
As mentioned above, Germany is highly interested in working closely with Japan in the energy sector. While Germany has become more open to a hydrogen-based economy, compared to its initial skepticism about the production and future use of hydrogen, experts from the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung) are still criticizing that there is no orientation towards specific targets and no systematic approach to the “energy transition“.
Not only experts criticize the fact that Germany has yet to fully map out its future use of renewable energies. In order to ensure that hydrogen, as a future-oriented energy source, becomes an integral part of the energy transition, what is needed is a targeted and coherent political concept that cuts across all sectors, as Japan has demonstrated.
Rabea Brauer heads the KAS office in Japan.
Last update: July 15th, 2021
02 — Foreign Office
Foreign Office Japan / Social and Economic Governance Programme Asia
OAG Haus 4F, 7-5-56 Akasaka
Minato-Ku, Tokyo 107-0052
04 — The region
Asia and the Pacific
For Germany, Japan is one of the most important economic and value partners in Asia. In addition to the wish for jointly maintaining and further developing the multilateral order, there is also the desire for closer cooperation in future technologies. Japan and Germany face similar challenges, particularly in regard to the future of industrial production and the demographic development of their societies.
- Population: 126,476,461
- Capital: Tokyo
Germany has a vital interest in maintaining and consolidating a world order based on the values of liberal democracy and on the centrality of the United Nations (UN). Given the USA’s global withdrawal, which the coronavirus pandemic has made even more evident, Germany needs to pursue this goal together with other international partners. With the Indo-Pacific Guidelines that were released in September 2020, the Federal Government expressly commits itself to this task in the region that is taking centre stage in the 21st century. India’s importance can hardly be overestimated in this respect: India is already the largest democracy in the world, and within the next decade it will replace China as the most populous country. Like Germany, the subcontinent at the Indo-Pacific interface is dependent on a solid security structure, an open trading system, and free navigation in international waters. India is severely affected by the consequences of global warming due to its vulnerable ecosystems and is reliant on multilateral approaches to solve this global problem.
- Population: 1,380,004,385
- Capital: New Delhi
For decades, Afghanistan was the country with the largest diaspora in the world. In 2015, this position was taken by Syria. Afghanistan looks back on 40 years of fleeing refugees, emigration and expulsion due to civil war, violence and destroyed livelihoods. Since 2001, the country has been one of Germany’s most important security partners in the Middle East. Afghanistan is also a reliable partner in migration policy and has never used migration flows as political leverage.
- Population: 38,928,346
- Capital: Kabul
The Expo 2017 world exhibition, a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (2018), the peace talks on Syria: no country in Central Asia is as oriented towards Europe and Germany as Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, much of what has happened recently in Kazakhstan and Central Asia has remained below Germany’s threshold of perception.
- Population: appr. 19 million
- Capital: Nur-Sultan
Vietnam is one of the few communist countries. A “socialist-oriented market economy” determines the country’s economic status, the communist party vigorously enforces its claim to total power, and the country is subject to fierce criticism in reports on human rights. At the same time, more than three decades of economic growth and political stability have led to Vietnam establishing itself as an influential player in Southeast Asia. An early and vigorous response to the coronavirus crisis has so far managed to limit the dangers to health and the economy.
- Population: 95,529,003
- Capital: Hanoi