PM Suga says Japan will attain zero-emissions, carbon neutral society by 2050

TOKYO, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday committed to cutting greenhouse gases to zero on a net basis by 2050 and achieving a carbon-neutral society, a major shift in its position on climate change.

Tokyo had previously said it would achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible in the second half of the century, rather than set an explicit target, and its swing brings it into line with the European Union, which set a carbon neutrality target of 2050 last year.

“Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth,” Suga said in a prepared speech, his first policy address to parliament since taking office last month.

“We need to change our thinking to the view that taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about great growth.”

Japan is the world’s fifth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, and while moves are being made to increase renewable energy, the country also plans to roll out new coal stations.

To achieve its goals, Suga said that new solar cells and carbon recycling would be key, and Japan would intensify research and development in those areas, along with digitalising Japanese society - a policy he has pushed since taking over from Shinzo Abe.

In a nod to Japan’s deep economic ties with giant neighbour China, Suga said a stable bilateral relationship was essential - but also said that Tokyo will maintain contact with “all like-minded nations for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Suga last week made his first visit to Vietnam and Indonesia, part of Tokyo’s efforts to strengthen ties with key countries in Southeast Asia as a counter to Beijing’s growing push to assert claims over disputed East China Sea isles.

“We will utilise high-level chances to decisively say what needs to be said, staying in contact in pursuit of common issues,” he said. (Reporting by Elaine Lies, Editing by William Maclean)