*Note: This is a provisional translation for reference purposes only.
Tuesday, April 5, 2022
Press Conference Room, METI
Q: Regarding the additional release of oil reserves agreed upon by the IEA, please tell us how much the Japanese government plans to release and when it will indicate its course of action.
A: The US called for an Extraordinary Ministerial Meeting of the IEA on April 1, which I attended despite it being nighttime in Japan.
After discussions among the member states at the said meeting, we agreed to a new release of oil from emergency reserves. The IEA is now carefully considering specific details, including the scale of this release. Once I receive an official notice from them, I would like to swiftly conclude this matter to ensure an efficient collective action to release oil stocks.
The Situation in Ukraine
Q: When you appeared on a TV show last Sunday and talked about the economic cooperation plan with Russia, you said that the government should take responsibility to tell companies operating in Russia what sort of action would be best to take in each industry.
Can you give us an idea of what that statement meant? For example, will you tell them whether it is necessary for them to withdraw from the country? Also, when do you plan to do so?
A: Considering the current situation in Ukraine, we cannot advance additional economic cooperation with Russia. We plan to suspend the eight-point cooperation plan for now and respond based on international discussions with a stable energy supply and humanity taken into consideration.
We believe that respecting Japanese companies’ decisions about their future is most important. That being said, there are a number of companies that trusted the Japanese government and entered Russia as part of this cooperation plan. They may inevitably be forced to make a difficult decision on whether to continue or discontinue their business in the middle of the rapidly changing situation.
When I appeared on that show, someone suggested that METI should create guidelines for these companies to be able to make appropriate decisions based on their situations and needs. In response to that suggestion, we already have a detailed understanding of the circumstances surrounding respective industries and companies. As there are a limited number of things we can offer, we may need to decide between overall guidelines and customized support. In any case, we will provide strong support to these companies. As the new fiscal year has started, I will take another look at each company's situation and make sure we help them overcome any problems they may have.
Q: Yesterday, you visited a biological research center in Hyogo Prefecture. Please tell us your impressions and about future support measures for the biomanufacturing field.
A: Biomanufacturing includes modifying the genomes of microorganisms, and my visit showed me unlimited possibilities of what you can produce from various raw materials in that process. Hydrogen bacteria that use CO2 as raw materials could be an ace up our sleeve against climate change, so we have recently decided to use the Green Innovation Fund for a project in the bio field. Like plastic that can decompose in the ocean, biotechnology is another innovation that can increase quality of life while addressing social challenges such as resource shortages, marine pollution, and climate change. It also forms one of the major pillars in helping us realize a new form of capitalism.
The US and China are already investing trillions of yen into this field, so we will also stand proudly as a bio-oriented country and make bold investments on a world-leading scale, which will include using the Green Innovation Fund.
Q: A new IPCC report was released yesterday, stating that greenhouse gas emissions must start to fall by 2025 in order to combat climate change issues. I would like to ask for your opinions on this and your thoughts on the other aspect you touched on the other day: can we achieve these goals when the Ukraine situation is changing the environment surrounding energy so drastically?
A: The IPCC is a United Nations organization that scientifically evaluates climate change caused by humans, and I believe their evaluation reports are an important information source for planning and implementing climate change countermeasures.
The recently approved IPCC Working Group III report states that a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use is necessary, but the report does not advocate eliminating the use of all fossil fuels across the board. The recent operation to respond to sudden fluctuations in oil product prices is just an emergency relief measure for the time being. It curbs rapid price increases but is not intended to encourage oil product consumption by reducing prices. We are also directing different policies that will contribute to carbon neutrality on a mid- to long-term basis, such as supporting the introduction of electrified vehicles.
It has been proposed to reduce the use of fossil fuels because of scientific research backing it. I do not think that this trend is changing. At the same time, I did say the other day that the Ukraine situation is changing the environment surrounding energy, but that does not mean we are giving up on carbon neutrality. We will find a way when each country is working toward it properly. So, as I said, I cannot deny that some countries may use more fossil fuels temporarily. However, I do not think that our goal is collapsing, making it impossible to go carbon neutral.
We are in an unusual situation now. As every country shares its knowledge, Japan will steadily focus on both the short term and long term and will not stop making efforts toward carbon neutrality.