Japan pledged financial and technological assistance on Saturday to ASEAN countries in their efforts to decarbonize their economies and address climate change.
Energy-poor Japan aspires to establish its position as the world's top hydrogen economy to lessen reliance on old polluting fossil fuels like coal and oil.
Japan will host a ministerial meeting on climate, energy, and the environment in Sapporo on April 15-16, ahead of the G7 summit in Hiroshima on May 19-21, to promote what it calls a realistic energy transition.
"Japan will take a lead in providing generous support in finance, technology and personal resources to help Asia's decarbonisation," Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told the first ministerial meeting of the Asia Zero Emission Community (AZEC).
Last year, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida proposed the AZEC with the goal of sharing the concept of advancing decarbonisation across Asian nations and cooperating to accelerate energy transition.
The AZEC is a critical strategy for Japan's global market penetration. The goal is for Japan to become a technology development leader, with Southeast Asia serving as the primary technology export market in the future.
The overall strategy will encompass initiatives such as developing carbon capture and other zero-carbon emission technologies, encouraging cross-border collaborative investment and funding, achieving technical standards, and establishing a carbon certificate market.
Nishimura said at the meeting, which was attended by numerous ASEAN states and Australia, that the push for collaboration will include renewable energy, natural gas, hydrogen, and ammonia, among other areas.
In a joint statement, AZEC requested that the group financially assist investments in decarbonisation infrastructure and the development of sustainable energy supply chains.
Neither the statement nor Nishimura provided a potential amount of the spending.
"As many countries have expressed wishes for support from Japan, we would like to take a strong leadership in supporting them in technology, finance, including investment from private sector, and human resource development," Nishimura said.
The AZEC members, including Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, could consider creating a master plan for hydrogen and ammonia in Asia as a next step, he added.
As a first concrete step under the AZEC, Japanese companies such as Iwatani Corp and Electric Power Development have agreed to jointly establish Japan's first hydrogen supply chain between Australia's Victoria state and Kawasaki, an industrialised city near Tokyo, to accelerate the energy transition toward a cleaner society, according to Nishimura.
During its G7 presidency this year, Japan will emphasize the importance of investing in gas, liquefied natural gas, hydrogen, and ammonia, but will keep it clean to fulfill the 2050 carbon neutral goal.
The majority of Asian countries rely on low-cost coal-fired electricity generation. Given the surge in natural gas costs driven by the Russia-Ukraine War, Southeast Asian countries will find it difficult to transition away from coal dependence in the short term.
From a perspective of energy diplomacy, Japan believes that demand for carbon neutral technology will become high in Asia in the future. If Japan can take the lead in establishing technologies and standards in Asia that differ from those in the West, it will not only have a concrete impact on carbon emissions reduction, but will also accelerate the commercialization of green energy technology and economic growth in Japan.