Japan PM pledges $19B to promote ecological businesses

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Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. Suga announced a 2 trillion green fund to promote innovation and technology to achieve his pledge to achieve a carbon free society by 2050.(AP Photo/Hiro Komae, Pool)

TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged a 2 trillion yen ($19 billion) fund on Friday to promote ecological businesses and innovation to achieve his goal of zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

Suga, who took office in mid-September, set climate change as one of his main policy goals along with promoting a digital transformation of Japanese society — issues which were left behind by his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, who resigned because of ill health.

“The fund is to bolster environmental investment as we aim to become a global leader in this area,” Suga said.

He pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in a policy speech in October, though it will be a major challenge given Japan’s significant reliance on fossil fuel.

Suga, in his first full-fledged news conference since taking office, said Friday that his Cabinet plans next week to approve an economic package that will also include 1 trillion yen ($9.5 billion) to promote the country's digital transformation — a weakness that Japan recognized when companies were requested to allow employees to work from home in response to the coronavirus and many were unable to.

Although he is known for a pragmatic approach to getting things done, it's unclear whether Suga has the political heft to overcome vested interests in weaning the resource-poor nation from its reliance on imported oil and gas.

He said Japan needs to strive to become a global leader in achieving carbon neutrality, and that investment in the environment is a growth opportunity, not a burden.

Suga repeated that he plans to deepen Japan's alliance with the United States and promote a vision of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.