x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 December 2017

Technology has major role in reducing carbon emissions, Japanese experts say

Reducing emissions while still meeting growing energy needs is a huge challenge for countries but one that tech can help with, they say

Huge investment in technologies is needed to create “super smart 5.0 society” and to reduce carbon emissions. AFP
Huge investment in technologies is needed to create “super smart 5.0 society” and to reduce carbon emissions. AFP

Technological innovations will play a fundamental role in reducing carbon emissions in the future, global energy experts said on Wednesday.

During the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum in Tokyo, they spoke of the immense challenge facing countries around the world in reducing emissions while still meeting growing energy demands.

“We are probably at the merge of a new civilisation [moving away] from the petroleum-based one,” said Nobuo Tanaka, chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo and former executive director of the International Energy Agency. “The Stone Age wasn’t over because there were no longer stones and the petroleum age may be over even if there are plenty of petroleum resources in the ground.”

New technologies are expected to play a big part in the drive to tackle climate change.

“Most innovation triumphs will solve it,” said Hiromichi Mizuno, executive managing director of the Government Pension Investment Fund in Japan, whose target is to reach 80 per cent emission reductions by 2050. “But before that, we should set up the new future smart society. The Japanese government decided it is a strong scenario for the economy and for this so-called society 5.0.”

Setting up a smart society would allow for a more dynamic use of electricity sources that would help saving energy, Mr Mizuno said.

Read more: Answer to climate change raises questions of its own

“It’s kind of a huge societal change and that’s our target based on forecasting energy consumption,” he said. “So many social issues can be solved by digital technology.”

According to the International Energy Agency, electrification will continue to grow but Mr Mizuno said huge investment in technologies was needed to create this “super smart 5.0 society”.

“Electricity is the most important thing to making a more controllable world,” he said. “It always needs to consume fuel but now we’re changing energy sources very dynamically so more diversified energy sources can be utilised for electricity, such as hydrogens.

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“Big data and digitisation are very powerful tools to observe what is happening so we can set up a future based on our predictions through digital data.”

And although a major energy-centric country such as the United States decided to pull out of the Paris Agreement that aims to tackle climate change, it has actually intensified the will for private-sector companies to invest more in the field.

“Since the US’ announcement of withdrawal of the Paris accord, we received significantly more communication from other global asset owners, including US pension funds,” said Mr Mizuno. “They want to work with us to make sure work is continuing in the same direction despite the US’ political decision. I wasn’t surprised when the US pulled out because it’s not the first time they’ve done this - they did it with the Kyoto Protocol and I always joke that the country has a criminal record in this.”

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Despite the Tokyo governor being against nuclear power, the energy source is still expected to play a major role in meeting future energy demands, Mr Tanaka said.

“Companies like Toshiba are on the brink of collapse because of the shutdown of nuclear power plants in Japan,” he said.

Mr Mizuno agreed, saying nuclear power was the result of human wisdom. “Of course, we have public acceptance issues, technological safety, a lot of things to be solved, but I believe it’s a very important energy source for the future,” he said. “For business management leaders, we need to make it possible, acceptable and make it contribute to the future. How we set up those conditions is one of the most serious business matters for us.”