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 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.

Companies of 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 possibility to joint actions in the future. Climate protection is no longer in a niche in Japan: during his G20 presidency, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe made climate protection the focus of the agenda.

Japan does feel the consequences of climate change, and the climate protection goals will not be achieved without policy change. The Japanese government’s energy plan also stipulates the need to develop more efficient and smart grid energy systems. However, even with the already available technologies, the challenges and costs to implement such systems remain high. Herein lies enormous potential for cooperation in this area: 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 priority to Japan’s policymakers and 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 to Japan’s energy supply. An accelerated phase-out and policy change is unlikely to receive political praise.

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? Here, Japan looks at Germany, a country that has done the math. Through the energy revolution, the “Energiewende”, Germany has set an example to the world and is recognised as a pioneer of renewable energy technologies. Hence, Japanese think tanks, universities, research institutions and individual government departments seek closer cooperation in research and application.

The economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are, of course, also being felt in Japan, representing a huge burden on companies and the state budget. Nevertheless, research on alternative forms of energy and implementation of the energy plan remain exempt from cuts or restrictions for the time being.

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 sees itself as 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 the import of fossil fuels. By 2040, Japan plans to shift its entire industry over 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 – hydrogen is immensely expensive to produce and not fully developed as a technology. To date, transporting hydrogen is another obstacle. Japan, however, assumes that large-scale plants for hydrogen production could be available by the beginning of 2030. According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), production will then amount to 300,000 tons per year. If Japan were using renewable energies such as wind power and solar energy to produce hydrogen, this would be a very substantive starting point for joint cooperation.

POTENTIAL: What is the potential for strengthening the partnership between Germany and Japan in this area?

To date, research on hydrogen has been very decentralized in Germany. So far, only a few municipal companies were concerned with the future use of this energy source. This is about to change due to the new directive on hydrogen energy that the German government recently introduced. According to the Japanese vision, trains and planes will soon be hydrogen-powered. Toyota is researching its use in tractors, refrigerated transporters, large trucks for long distances and in heavy duty harvesting machines. The energy density of a filled hydrogen tank is between 100 and 200 times greater than that of a lithium-ion battery.

Today, hydrogen is already being used in fuel cell vehicles and in industrial applications. However, hydrogen is not a solution for car fuels. Instead, it is much more useful as an intermediate storage medium for renewable energy. Experts state that the use of hydrogen is only effective in the context of expanding new energy sources.

Combining regenerative energies with hydrogen production makes the technology attractive in Germany, too. Individual companies are already working on producing hydrogen in a way that is both resource efficient and highly effective. While experiments are being carried out in Germany with electrolysis, sewage sludge or sea water, companies in Japan are trying to extract hydrogen from plastic waste. All these efforts are pursuing the aim of producing hydrogen in a climate-neutral way.  Here we look at enormous potential for intensified cooperation.

POLICY RECOMMENDATION: What in German foreign policy has to change in order to fully exploit this potential?

Germany is very interested in working closely with Japan in the energy sector. Although Germany is promoting the hydrogen economy with funds from various sources, experts from the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung) have criticized the lack of a holistic energy strategy that contributes to successfully reaching the “Energiewende”.

Nonetheless, hydrogen power will play an important role in the energy revolution. Not only experts criticize the fact that Germany has yet to fully map out its future use of renewable energies. To be capable of using hydrogen power future energy and as an integral part of the energy revolution, a political commitment is needed first, followed by a targeted and cohesive policy across all sectors, like the one being pursued in Japan.

Rabea Brauer heads the KAS office in Japan.


  • Population: 126,476,461
  • Capital: Tokyo
  • Interest: Securing Essential Natural Resources and Protecting the Climate
  • Region: Asia and the Pacific
  • Potential partner countries: India, Japan, Philippines, PR China, Singapore

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: 18,776,707
  • 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