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No need to hold COP 29: Just follow Japan’s lead!

Japan has accomplished the difficult task of reducing their emissions, mainly through its decreasing population.

This article by Terry Spahr was originally published on 7 Dec 2023 in Earth Overshoot's newsletter, and then republished by ourselves and The Overpopulation Project on 12 Dec. Read the original here.

COP 28, the United Nations’ annual climate summit is happening right now in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. These climate conferences have been taking place since 1995 and as Axios reported, each and every year, save for temporary recessions, global emissions keep going up and up and up and up:

If there was a solution that was working, would the 70,000 attendees want to know about it?

Look no further than Japan, a country whose total emissions have been dropping by millions of tons every year since 2013.

In fact, Japan should be featured at COP 28, as a country that actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions instead of just talking about it. All 70,000 attendees should wake up, take note, and return to their respective countries and implement the same strategy.

 But what exactly is Japan’s strategy?

World Bank data shows the typical Japanese citizen’s CO2 emissions have averaged approximately 9 tons per year since 2010. From a high of 9.91 tons in 2013 to a low of 8.54 tons in 2019. The reductions per capita have not decreased substantially.

In the same seven years in Japan from 2013 through 2019, CO2 emissions dropped 26,000,000 tons (that’s 26 MILLION TONS) annually!

What has led to this dramatic decline in emissions?

Japan’s solution has largely come about unintentionally and unexpectedly through its declining population. The country’s population peaked in 2009 and has been declining ever since. Last year alone saw a decline of approximately 700,000 people.

Japan saw a net decline of 2,435,000 people between 2013 and 2019  which accounts for the overwhelming reduction of the 21 million tons in annual emissions.

The incredible aspect is these declining emissions will continue in correlation with an expected further decline in its population. Japan in the meantime continues to experience a strong economy with an incredibly low 2.64% unemployment figure, and its Nikkei stock index is up over 25% year to date. It is a win-win for Japan, greater prosperity for its people, and less pollution and emissions for the environment.

If COP attendees effectively brought this same fact-based evidence home to their countries, envision how quickly we could begin to slow down and then reduce CO2 emissions. We wouldn’t need a COP 29, 30 or 31.  “If Japan can do it, so can the world!” 


Filmmaker, naturalist and activist Terry Spahr is a member of Stable Planet Alliance's advisory board and directs Earth Overshoot, a nonprofit dedicated to making nature and its resources central to personal and public decisionmaking through targeted education and advocacy. He is an expert on sustainability and the intersection of human consumption and population as the primary drivers of environmental destruction. He produced the 2020 documentary 8 Billion Angels, which uses compelling stories to lift the veil on a critical topic often purposely relegated to the shadows of our personal, political and international conversations. Terry graduated from the University of Pennsylvania College of Arts & Sciences and Fels Center of Government.

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