Japan Seeks To Lead in the Energy Future Without Abandoning Present Ties

July 26, 2023|Energy Policy

Within a single day last week, Prime Minister Kishida was pitching oil-rich Middle Eastern states on opportunities to invest with Japan in green energy and also delivering a video message of support for an LNG conference in Tokyo attended by dignitaries of the world’s top buyers and sellers of natural gas.

After stops in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where PM Kishida laid out a “Global Green Energy Hub” concept to turn the Middle East from a hydrocarbon powerhouse to one based on clean energy, he touched down in Qatar on July 18 to mend a relationship that has frayed over the years due to Tokyo’s dwindling LNG purchases. The same day, the Qatari minister for energy and CEO of the state’s main gas company, delivered a speech at the LNG Producer-Consumer Conference, arguing that LNG will be in high demand “for decades” after 2050.

A skilled diplomat, Kishida was Japan’s longest-serving foreign minister in postwar history before taking on the mantle of PM in late 2021. Still, even with this experience, Kishida and his officials are trying to thread the needle in an ever-more-volatile energy space in which climate, social, industrial and geopolitical pressures are testing Japan’s preference for a gradual, pragmatic shift away from fossil fuels.

Kishida’s proposal to the Middle East – and the broader global energy community – is almost a textbook example of good international relations. Japan’s top oil and gas producers are offered to invest in the new energy products that Tokyo wants to buy in the future, thus compensating for the inevitable drop in hydrocarbon sales.

The investment menu Japan is putting in front of its partners includes clean hydrogen, batteries, critical raw materials, and even semiconductors. The problem for Kishida, and Japan as a whole, is that the fruit of these labors and concepts will not ripen for years and possibly decades. Meanwhile, the next UN climate summit, COP28, is already less than four months away. At which, like at almost all previous editions, Japan will be berated by the environmental movement for maintaining a relationship with fossil fuels.

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