Progress on Vision 2050 Since 1995

  • Hiroshi Komiyama
  • Koichi Yamada
Open Access
Part of the Science for Sustainable Societies book series (SFSS)


With regard to global warming, debate on its authenticity was prevalent even among scientists 20 years ago when Vision 2050 was envisioned. However, now in 2016, 99% of the scientists consider global warming to be a fact. Furthermore, due to abnormal weather occurring frequently across the Earth, global warming is gaining acceptance among the general public with a sense of reality, going beyond the recognition of scientists. While looking at the changes over the past 20 years, let’s examine the feasibility of Vision 2050, which was presented to resolve the trilemma of global warming, energy and resources, and the economy.

2.1 Saturation of Man-Made Objects and the Material-Circulating System

2.1.1 Saturation of Population

“Saturation” is a basic concept that expresses the conditions of the twenty-first century. The world’s population will also eventually reach saturation. Certainly, the U.N. projects the global population to continue growing in the twenty-first century. However, the root cause of this is the growth in average life-span. Population size is determined by the number of childbirths and average life-span, and the number of births in the world, excluding Africa, is already declining.

Each woman needs to give birth to two children—strictly speaking, 2.07 children due to the fact that more males are born than females—in order to sustain the population of a country. Few developed countries exceed that replacement rate of two, and those that do, do it just barely. Fertility rates continue to decline annually even in such countries categorized as newly industrialized like Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, and Indonesia. As of 2013, the rates for each stood at 2.19, 1.80, 1.40, and 2.34, respectively. That is, for populations outside of Africa, when the average life-span reaches saturation, they start to shrink.

In nearly every part of the world, the number of children born falls as the economy develops. The reasons for this are said to include a fading of the motivation to have children as a source of labor, an inability to withstand the burdens of having multiple children such as the costs incurred in providing their education, and people being more knowledgeable about such things as contraception. Furthermore, it is also known for a fact that as education – particularly that of women – becomes more widely available, it causes the fertility rate to drop.

Accordingly, if economic growth remains steady in Africa, and if education levels in particular make rapid strides there, then the number of births will reach saturation or start to decline. The twenty-first century will be special era in the sense that the human population will be reaching its peak.

Vision 2050 hypothesized that the world’s population will stand at 9.3 billion people in that year, and at present there are no major changes to that.

2.1.2 Saturation of Man-Made Objects

Man-made objects are being supplied and accumulated constantly in human society. The results of that accumulation are the forms of the modern city, but that is not to say this accumulation can go on without limit. The saturation when it comes to automobiles, buildings, and such in most developed countries is already striking.

Figure 2.1 shows how many residences and households there are in Japan. The country is believed to have reached saturation in this area around 2015. Japan has 50 million households, and around 60 million places of residence. That figure has gone well beyond one residence per household, with the number of residence exceeding that of households by more than 10 million. There are instances of people also having vacation or other second homes, but in any case, there are said to be 8 million houses that are vacant. In provincial cities, depopulation and an increase in the numbers of vacant homes whose ownership is unclear are becoming social problems. The annual demand corresponding to these 50 million households and 60 million residences is from 1.0 to 1.2 million residences when dividing it by the expected 50-year service life of a home. A look at the number of new housing starts in recent years shows that it falls largely within this range.
Fig. 2.1

Changes in the number of houses and the number of households in Japan. (Source: Created based on “2013 Housing and Land Survey” (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications) for 1958–2013, and “Household Projections for Japan (National Projections) (January 2013)” (National Institute of Population and Social Security Research) for 2013–2030)

Thinking about saturation of man-made objects in terms of what stage of economic development a developing country is at, we see it begins with infrastructure such as roads and railroads being laid down. As the country becomes a little more affluent, it extends to the high-tech products of daily life such as televisions and electronic goods. Finally, it reaches the expensive purchase that is the automobile. Japan has already reached saturation when it comes to most man-made objects (Fig. 2.2), and even China is steadily on track toward saturation (Fig. 2.3).
Fig. 2.2

Percentage of households possessing major durable goods

(Data) “Consumer Confidence Survey,” Cabinet office. (Source: Honkawa Data Tribune (

(Note) Applies to two-or-more-person households; applied until 1963 only to households in cities with a population of 50,000 or more; survey in 1957 conducted in September; surveys in 1958-1977 conducted in February; surveys in 1978 and beyond conducted in March; survey items changed from 2005; fall in many items in 2015 also due to effects of changes to the survey slip; digital cameras no longer include cell phones with built-in cameras; flat-panel TVs belong to the category of color TVs; optical disc players/recorders include those for DVDs and blue ray discs; from 2014, color TVs refer only to flat-panel TVs and no longer include to cathode-ray TVs)

Fig. 2.3

Changes in percentage of households possessing major durable goods. (Source: “Honkawa Data Tribune” (

(Note) By sampling survey; farm households not included up to 2001, but all households became subject in 2002 and beyond; survey at the end of 2012

Source: China Statistical Yearbook

Figure 2.4 shows the number of automobiles sold per person in each country. For Japan, the number of cars owned is in the 60 million range, meaning there is basically one car for every two people. Similar conditions obtained in other developed countries like the U.S., UK, France, and Germany, with one car to two people representing a state of automobile saturation.
Fig. 2.4

Secular changes in per capita automobile sales. (Created by the Author. Source: Automobile sales according to Automotive Yearbook, population according to UNSD Demographic Statistics)

Even if it is at saturation, new cars can still be sold because there is demand for replacement or renewal. In the case of Japan, on average it takes about 12 years before an automobile is discarded, which means if we divided the figure of 60 million by 12 years we get 5 million vehicles disposed of annually. Since 1989, the number of new registrations has averaged from the 4 million to 5 million range. The number of new cars dovetails with the number that are discarded. Based on this, just how many cars can be sold per capita? There are 50 automobiles for every 100 persons. Fifty annually divided by 12 years is roughly four. So, in other words, the number of vehicles that are sold under the circumstances of automobile saturation is four for every 100 people, or in other words 0.04 vehicles per capita. A glance at Fig. 2.4 shows that developed countries are all converging on that figure. Furthermore, China is quickly closing in on developed country conditions. If China’s development follows that of Japan and South Korea, then it will come close to saturation for automobiles in 5–10 years.

In short, saturation of man-made objects produces saturation in the number of units sold and ends up putting a halt to economic growth. This is what truly lies behind the low growth rates of developed countries. Accordingly, it would be best to think that no model for economic growth exists that extends from existing scenarios.

2.1.3 Saturated Demand for Substances and Materials: Cement

Being saturated with man-made objects also means being saturated with the resources used for man-made objects. Figure 2.5 shows the per capita production volume for cement at present around the world. Given that the exports and imports of cement are comparatively small, its production volume can approximate the amount brought into the country. Accordingly, the area below the line is the cement input volume for each country.
Fig. 2.5

Per capita cement production volume. (Created by the Author. Source: the global market. (Source: Yearbook, US Geological Survey), population (UN 2015 Revision of World Population Prospects))

Cement is a good indicator for the state of a country’s development and urbanization given that it used for roads, ports, dams, and similar projects. Every country eventually hits a peak in the increase of input volume needed to set up the large amounts of infrastructure en route to its period of so-called high-speed growth. In Japan’s case, the volume rapidly increased starting in the 1960s to peak somewhere between 1980 and 2000, after which it has been in a period of decline.

The U.S. has been a driver for many years of contemporary civilization as represented by its car-oriented society. This is likely why it has grown at a sluggish pace through trial and error, rather than constructing paved roads and express highways all in one go. Its total sum input volume to date is approximately 17 tons per capita.

Meanwhile, since the 1990s, China has been moving forward with a mad burst of construction and has already reached the level of 22 tons per capita. In other words, with a population that is 4.5 times the size of the U.S., China has an infrastructure that is close to six times as big. Considering news reports that there are clusters of buildings that lack tenants, we cannot deny the possibility that it is already overabundant.

2.1.4 Saturated Demand for Substances and Materials: Iron

After cement, iron is the resource used in the greatest amounts. Its physical properties of strength and toughness can be controlled as desired by controlling composition and adding substances. Moreover, it is superb in that it can be recycled however many times one wants. Iron is already at saturation in Japan. The total input volume of iron associated with the input of new products is 30 million tons. The amount of iron including that from wasted man-made objects – in other words, scrap – is also 30 million tons. The fact that these two amounts are largely in equilibrium is as I discussed in the previous chapter. This corresponds also to almost completely saturated demand for man-made objects as shown in Fig. 2.2. Of course, new products such as smartphones will appear on the scene, but they are not so big that they will affect the balance in the total amount of iron. When it comes to saturated demand for man-made objects that are large enough to affect the total amount, it is for objects at the final stage like automobiles and buildings. I have already spoken of automobiles and houses, but if you look at most of the cities in the world you can get a visceral sense that buildings are at saturation, too.

Figure 2.6 shows that production is shifting from resource extraction to waste recycling due to saturated demand for man-made objects as projected in Vision 2050, and gross production volume is reaching saturation. Figure 2.7 shows trends related to the corresponding amount of iron. Currently, China produces more than half the world’s iron, and until recently most of the iron it produced was also consumed in China. Accordingly, the figure attempts to deduct China’s contributions to the world total and look at global trends without China.
Fig. 2.6

Transition from mining resources for production raw materials to recycling

Fig. 2.7

Production volume of pig iron, scrap, and steel in the world excluding China. (Created by the Author. Source: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series, Steel Statistical Yearbook (World Steel Association))

Comparing the two figures we see they are extremely similar. From this it can be seen that iron production has been gradually transitioning from the use of iron ore to the recycling of scrap. As of 2012, recycling already accounted for about half. This figure chiefly shows a state of saturation in developed countries. China is quickly reaching saturation, and eventually the whole world will reach that state and shift into an era of recycling.

Next, let us examine future trends with China included.

The cumulative amount in Japan is 1.4 billion tons. With a population of around 125 million people, that works out to 11 tons per person. That figure is the saturation value per person. If we think about its salience in terms of the population density of Japan and the density of man-made objects according to that, we can consider it to be the maximum saturation value per capita.

If we apply this 11 tons per person figure to China with its 1.3 billion population, we get a saturation value of 14 billion tons. The total amount of iron accumulated in China through 2012 is estimated to have been 8.9 billion tons. Annual demand is currently said to be 700 million tons, so the amount will reach 14 billion tons in 7–8 years. In proportion to population, this means it will reach saturation equal to Japan.

Next, let’s look at the world as a whole. Currently, approximately 1.4 billion tons of iron are produced annually around the world. The portion of this that is iron produced from blast furnaces using iron ore amounts to 1 billion tons annually and represents the new cumulative amount globally. The remaining 400 million tons comprise recycled iron produced in electric furnaces using scrap.

The total amount of iron that humanity has produced and accumulated up to now is estimated to be about 30 billion tons. It exists in various places around the world as man-made objects. That constitutes an urban mine. Furthermore, if we assume that the amount of iron will continue to accumulate at 1 billion tons annually as it does today resulting in an accumulation of 34 billion tons by 2050, then the total size of urban mines will reach 64 billion tons. The saturated cumulative amount for a global population of 9.3 billion people at 11 tons per person is approximately 100 billion tons. Given that we will be at 64% of saturation volume in 2050, this is comparable to where Japan was around 1990. If the conditions that existed in Japan 25 years ago are produced around the world, then it is quite likely that demand for it will be at saturation.

Moreover, if we assume the life-span of man-made objects that use iron to be 30 years, then the cumulative amount of scrap produced in 1 year would be 1/30th the total or about 2.1 billion tons annually. Currently, scrap is being generated in amounts that far exceed the world’s production volume. The amount of energy consumed in the future will consequently be more on the shift from scrap being markedly reduced to being thrown out than it will on the use of iron ore. That is to say, it may be assumed that a sense of saturation with iron will have permeated the world in 2050.

Under these conditions, if a material-circulating system for making all ironware from scrap is established, then humanity will be able to announce that it has finally gotten away from extracting iron ore.

To transition from extracting natural resources to making use of urban mines – this would be an effective step not only for iron but for all inanimate materials including cement, ceramics, aluminum, and precious metals.

This argument also holds largely true for biological materials like lumber and paper, but the fact that they are grown after they are harvested and after they have been recycled for use however many times they finally are burned and tidily used as energy constitutes a proper cycle. Plastics are also the same, but eventually by 2050, significant amounts of plastics will be made from biological resources such as wood.

Thus, while there are differences in the particulars of recycling methods based on the materials, the goal that humanity should be aiming for is a complete material-circulating system.

2.1.5 Hope for a Circulating Society

While people to date had seen saturation of man-made objects as a troubling issue from an economic perspective, it is a hope for humanity from the perspective of sustainability of resources and energy. First, amid all the concerns about the resource depletion, those about the limits for inanimate resources would go away. Those that remain would be over biological and energy resources, and as we will discuss later, these, too, would be fine rovided we proceed in accordance with Vision 2050 and the Platinum Society proposal.

Thus, when it comes to saturation of man- objects, we are moving forward as I projected two decades ago in Chikyū jizoku no gijutsu. In short, at present saturation is roughly being reached in developed countries. Because of he breakneck economic growth that China – a developing country at that time – has managed, it is closing in on saturation and may have even overshot it. Globally, 2050 will be the turning point on saturation of man-made objects, and it is conceivable that by that point, we should have put into place the technology, systems, and economy of a circulating society.

2.2 Energy Saving and Renewable Energy

2.2.1 Further Development Achieved in Energy Saving

Global energy consumption has increased by about 50% since 1995. However, Fig. 2.8 shows that energy consumption relative to GDP has declined 30%. Energy consumption relative to GDP is largely dependent on changes in industrial structure and technological improvements. Specifically, when manufacturing industries shrink and service industries expand, energy consumption relative to GDP falls off and then goes down further due to improvements in energy technology. The energy-saving effects shown in Fig. 2.8 include both of these factors. In fact, an analysis of the period between 1995 and 2015 shows that the GDP increased by 78%, which outpaced the 50% rise in energy consumption.
Fig. 2.8

Global energy-saving index. (Source: The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA))

Energy technology has also clearly improved. As can be seen in Fig. 2.9, from 2000 to 2012 energy consumption by energy-intensive industries dropped by as much as 15%.
Fig. 2.9

Industry and energy consumption. (Source: ODYSSE)

Looking at automobiles, which account for 21% of energy consumption worldwide, we see that remarkable improvements have been made in the energy efficiency of leading-edge environmentally friendly vehicles. The Japanese automobile companies are global leaders in this area. Toyota, for example, has gone all out in its introduction of hybrid vehicles. Fig. 2.10 shows that energy consumption by new cars sold in the global marketplace also improved 20% from 2000 to 2012.
Fig. 2.10

Energy consumption of new cars sold in the global market. (Source: ICCT (2014) Global Comparison of Passenger Car and Light-commercial Vehicle Fuel Economy/GHG Emissions Standards, The International Council on Clean Transportation (above), Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2017, IEA (below))

Based on the foregoing, it would be safe to say that we are on target for tripling energy efficiency by 2050 compared to 1990.

2.2.2 Putting Renewable Energy at the Core of Energy Investments

Figure 2.11 presents trends of electricity generation by source since 1995. Meanwhile, Table 2.1 shows the total energy supply and the share of each fuel from 1995 (when Vision 2050 was written) through 2015. Fossil fuels including oil, coal and natural gas have always accounted for the biggest share of overall energy production, while the share that they accounted for in electricity specifically was nearly constant at 65%, with composition for the remaining 35% exhibiting great changes. First, the absolute amount of hydropower increased by 1.6 times. Renewables other than hydropower – which at 1.4% was essentially close to zero – grew considerably, with wind power and solar reaching 6.4%. This growth has been based on market mechanisms, and renewable energy has already achieved price competitiveness. Since reaching its peak amount of electricity generated in 2006, nuclear power has declined slightly.
Fig. 2.11

Changes in power supply by resource in 1995 and beyond. (Source: IEA Energy Balances)

Table 2.1

Changes in total global primary energy supply





Natural gas

Nuclear power



New renewable energies

































































































Note: New renewable energies refer to wind, solar, geothermal, etc.

Source: Created based on IEA Energy Balances; data for 2015 created based on World Energy Outlook 2016

In terms of energy as a whole, fossil fuels account for 76.5%. The total amount of renewable energy including wind, hydroelectric, solar, geothermal, and biomass power grew by 1.6 times, and the share that renewables account for in the total energy supply has reached 18.8%. Meanwhile, nuclear power fell from 6.3% in 1995 to 4.8% in 2015.

As a result, when we add renewable energy to nuclear power, we see that the share of non-fossil fuel energy accounts for 23.6%.

The reason why renewable energy is being adopted is because costs have fallen. This is a result of a positive spiral of improvements in technology and an expansion of the market size, followed by further improvements in technology. As Figs. 2.12 and 2.13 shows, the costs of wind and solar power fell dramatically from the 1980s to the present, to 1/20th and 1/200th of their earlier levels, respectively. Even looking at just the past two decades since 1995, their costs have dropped to 1/4th and 1/20th of their earlier levels, respectively. Reflecting this state of affairs, renewable energy has been put at the core of energy investments.
Fig. 2.12

The graph of “Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States, U.S. Department of Energy Wind Energy Technologies Office” has been processed. (Note: In the Wind Vision, good to excellent sites’ are those with average wind speeds of 7.5 meters per second (m/s) or higher at hub height. LCOE estimates the PTC)

Fig. 2.13

Fall in solar power generation costs. (Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance &

We have long argued that such a fall in costs would occur. However, many people in Japan including energy specialists did not believe this would be the case. As a result, Japan is one step behind compared to the pace at which renewables are being adopted around the world. Japan lags far behind when it comes to wind power. The country was a pioneer globally with solar power in launching a national project called the Sunshine Project in 1974, and its technology clearly led the world. It fell behind in getting it out into the public at large, but it has adopted a feed-in tariff as it makes up for falling behind.

There has been no growth with nuclear power – a source of energy that. Like renewables. Does not emit CO2. The amount of electricity generated at present is no more than 15% higher than the figure for 1995. In Chikyū jizoku no gijutsu, I wrote that owing to worries over safety, nuclear power would be an energy in a transition period from the mid-twentieth century to the mid-twenty-first century and account for around 5% of total energy. In fact, the reason for nuclear power’s lack of growth is that anxieties over safety caused costs to rise and so it has no economic advantage. With the cost of renewable energy dropping dramatically, it is difficult to paint a scenario in which nuclear power will recover its cost competitiveness. It can be said that we were correct (in Vision 2050) to see nuclear power as an energy source going through a transitional period.

However, the challenge for Japan in debates over energy is the nuclear power problem. This is because it has reactors into which considerable capital investments were made in the past, and there are many people involved with them directly and indirectly. In other words, it boils down to the facts that exist now. The energy with which the sun bathes the Earth is more than 10,000 times as much as what human beings need right now. Renewable energy technology is what makes it easy and inexpensive to use that energy. Given that this technology is already economically competitive, it would not be an exaggeration to say that humanity has already settled on renewable energy for the future. Japan should quickly free itself from the yoke of nuclear power and push forward vigorously with energy efficiency and renewable.

By way of conclusion, the speed with which wind and solar power have made inroads exceeds even my projections at the time I drafted Vision 2050. Another miscalculation I made, in a good sense, was about the growth of hydropower generation. I thought that we might have already reached a limit on the construction of big dams, but in fact there was still room for development, to the extent that it might nearly double.

The significance of the doubling of renewable energy mentioned in Vision 2050 is that it called for raising the 20% share they had accounted for – 10% from old-fashioned biomass like firewood and manure; 5% from renewable energies such as hydro, wind, and solar power; and 5% from nuclear power – to 40%. That objective has not been achieved, but renewables alone now account for more than 12% where they had once been at 5%. In 2050, we will be in an era in which renewables account for more than half of the world’s energy.

2.3 Vision 2050 as a Happy Vision

2.3.1 The Industrial Structure of Japan as a “Leading Country in Resolving Societal Problems” and Energy

Let us next discuss the major role that Japan has played globally in making progress on Vision 2050. Figure 2.14 shows the data on per capita GDP and energy consumption from 1965 to 2015 with the data for all three categories in 1973 designated as 1.
Fig. 2.14

Changes in GDP, energy consumption and electricity consumption. (Source: Created by the authors based on various materials. Real GDP (“National Accounts,” Cabinet Office), electricity demand and final energy consumption (“Comprehensive Energy Statistics,” Agency for Natural Resources and Energy) indexed by designating FY1973 as 1)

GDP and energy consumption both increased in unison until 1973. Those were the years of high-speed economic growth, with industry (especially the heavy and chemical industries) at the core. The first energy crisis occurred in 1973. The cost of petroleum rose sharply and all at once to 10–20 times its previous level. That dealt a direct blow to a global economy that was dependent on inexpensive petroleum, and delivered a heavy blow to Japanese industries in particular. However, Japan’s core industries of the day – steel, chemicals, ceramics, and paper pulp – pushed forward vigorously on reducing power use and succeeded at converting a crisis into an opportunity. In other words, it succeeded in creating one of the best industries for “monozukuri” (making things) in the world, while simultaneously achieving economic growth without increasing energy consumption.

Incidentally, in 1973 the GDP stood at about ¥200 trillion and grew to ¥330 trillion by 1985, but energy consumption remained completely the same.

Subsequently, the core of economic growth switched from secondary to tertiary industries. Tertiary industries use about one-third the energy that secondary industries do to achieve the same GDP. This is why even as the economy grew, the amount of energy consumed was less than it had been prior to 1973. This was about the situation that existed in 1995 at the time when I drafted Vision 2050.

Energy consumption reached its peak in the years from 2000 to 2005, and since then it at long last has been falling. The phenomenon of energy consumption finally falling due to saturation of man-made objects and energy saving as laid out in the scenario for Vision 2050 is actually underway in Japan. In recent years, the economy has been growing only slightly, but nevertheless continues to grow. Comparing 2003 with 2015, we see that the GDP grew at an annual rate of 0.65% while energy consumption declined at an annual rate of 1.6%.

Electricity has presented a picture that is slightly different from that of energy as a whole. The work of service industries takes place mainly in offices rather than factories, and electricity is what it uses. The share of energy that electric power accounts for has been increasing. Currently, electricity accounts for 43% of energy consumption. As for demand, while the floor area of offices has continued to grow, it is gradually reaching a peak. Furthermore, energy saving at office buildings is making strides similar to those in the home. Under these conditions, while electricity use increased largely in unison with the GDP until around 2005, it peaked around 2006 and 2007 and then began to decline.

In Japan today, we are approaching saturated demand for those man-made objects that consume large amounts of energy like factories, automobiles, homes, and buildings, and when they are updated, we are improving their energy efficiency. As a result, Japan is entering an age in which energy consumption falls even as its economy grows.

Japan has been leading the world in translating into reality the task of how to address the issue of simultaneously achieving the economic growth required so that all the world’s peoples can lead affluent lifestyles while dealing with the need to cut down on CO2-emitting energy sources.

Thus, if we look comprehensively at the tracks that Japan has laid down to date, we see it has trod the path of a leading country in resolving societal problems aimed at in Vision 2050. However, it is at the mercy of the nuclear power problem, and its energy policy at present is such that it is difficult to see where it should put its focus. It should quickly free itself from the nuclear yoke, and continue to take the lead as it has already driven the world in the area of energy efficiency.

2.3.2 Certainly Japan Led the World

Figure 2.15 shows the current size of China’s GDP and the amount of energy it consumes as well as future projects, as the IEA announced in 2016. Comparing this to Fig. 2.14, it is plain that China should adopt a course in the future that follows the course that Japan has already set down.
Fig. 2.15

China’s GDP and energy consumption (according to projection by the IEA). (Source: World Energy Outlook 2015)

China’s GDP and energy consumption have grown in the same way so far. This is the heavy and chemical industry sector-centered growth model that had prevailed in Japan until 1973. The GDP will grow by a factor of 3 times by 2040, but growth in energy consumption will stop at 30%. Japan has seen its GDP grow by 2.5 times from 1973 until now, but energy consumption grew only 24%. The fact is, China should do what Japan has been doing for the past 40 years, and likely will. However, this is a merely a matter of following the example of the past. Given that Japan is going to achieve further economic growth and reductions in energy consumption in the future, China should parallel those moves and aim at keeping even bigger energy consumption under control.

Whatever the case, it is safe to say that Japan has presented the world with a superb model for managing both economic growth and energy saving.

2.3.3 The World Is Making Progress toward Achieving Vision 2050

Looking back at what has happened between 1995 and today, while it can be said that conditions are approaching those brought up in Vision 2050, there have been more than a few developments that I could not predict at the time of writing. For example, the U.S. – the world’s largest consumer of energy – had been an energy importer at the time, but as a result of the shale gas revolution, it has become an energy exporter. Thanks to how easy it has become to make use of shale gas – which is present in abundant quantities – the price of gas has dropped in the U.S. Renewable energy has also been making inroads, while the strengthening of regulations on coal-fired power plants that should reduce dependence on coal continues. Many existing power plants have been shuttered or are planned to be closed, and nearly all plans for new ones have been cancelled. Of the approximately 500 utilities that had been sprinkled across the country, 180 have gone bankrupt.

As a result, the amount of CO2 emitted in the U.S. is now declining. The total volume of emissions in 2015 had been reduced by 12% compared to 2005. The economy grew 15% during that period, and so like Japan, the U.S. managed to achieve both economic growth and CO2 reduction. This situation could not have been predicted 20 years ago, but from the perspective of Vision 2050, it is a direction that should be largely welcomed.

Also, the speed of China’s economic growth has surpassed expectations. Thinking about this by extension from the situation at the time 1995, the surmise was that China would not achieve saturation of man-made objects until further in the future than today. However, it has done so faster than expected, and what is more, if we think about things like the input volume of cement, it gives us the sense that it has even overshot that saturation. China has expanded beyond all measure when it comes to one shared yardstick. The situation perhaps is that the coastal and urban areas have gone beyond saturation of man-made objects, while it will still take a little more time for that to occur in the mountainous areas and provincial cities.

The concept of saturation of man-made objects was first put forth in Vision 2050. In recent years, observers mainly in Europe have begun to talk about the economy of the circulating society, using the term “circular economy.” The circular economy argument calls for getting away from resource mining and greatly reducing energy consumption by combining recycling with saturation of man-made objects. This argument has not yet achieved the degree of logical consistency presented in Vision 2050. Furthermore, in 2000 the Japanese Government as a national policy adopted the three “R”s of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” through the Basic Law for Establishing a Recycling-based Society. Recycling comprises the re-use of something as a material and using combustion as an energy resource. The same value is assigned to material and thermal recycling. The three Rs in this sense comprise a fundamental way of thinking with which Japan should stand proud before the world.

Considered in this light, there is a strong sense of Japan’s being a forerunner when it comes to the circulating economy. In particular, the concepts of the completely circulating society arising from saturation of man-made objects laid out in Vision 2050 and the energy-efficient society that comes with that are of a significance that even today should guide the world.

With regard to tripling energy efficiency compared to 1995, even today this is valid, including that “tripling” figure. That figure was a result of projecting just how far technology could close the gap between theory and reality in terms of energy consumption with respect to all of the bigger items in the amount of energy consumed and taking the weighted average of the projected figure. Various proposals had been offered before this such as Factor 41 and Factor 102, but these figures had thin theoretical foundations. A figure based on rational analysis would be quite reasonable. On the other hand, the objective of doubling the amount of renewable energy requires adjustment. The objective should be to have it account for half of total energy by 2050.

The two most important issues that the Paris Agreement highlights are (1) energy-saving and (2) renewable energy. The part of Vision 2050 related to CO2 is becoming something of which everyone in the world is aware. While there is no shortage of events that could not be predicted back in 1995, I believe it’s safe to say that the three guidelines for action that provide its basic structure – “saturation of man-made objects and the circulating society,” “energy efficiency,” and “renewable energy” – in the not-so-distant future will start to receive recognition around the world.


  1. 1.

    “Factor 4” is a concept first presented in 1992. It calls for using one-quarter of the resources and energy needed for products and services. This will make it possible to quadruple resource productivity (the amount of wealth and services that can be produced per unit of input volume of a resource). It aims to double wealth, while halving strains on the environment such as overuse of natural resources.

  2. 2.

    “Factory 10” is a concept first presented in 1991. It argues that it is necessary to cut in half the amount of resources currently being used in the next 50 years in order to create a sustainable society. To accomplish this, it will be necessary for developed countries – which account for 20% of the world’s population – to increase resource productivity (the amount of wealth and services that can be produced per unit of input volume of a resource) by a factor of 10.


  1. Honkawa Data Tribune (2017) Accessed Jan 2018
  2. Honkawa Data Tribune (2015) Accessed Jan 2018
  3. ICCT (2014) Global comparison of passenger car and light-commercial vehicle fuel economy/GHG emissions standards, p 8. Accessed Jan 2018
  4. IEA (2017) Tracking clean energy progress 2017, p 103. Accessed Jan 2018
  5. ODYSSEE-MURE (2016) Synthesis: energy efficiency trends and policies in the EU, p 11. Accessed Jan 2018
  6. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) (2015) World energy outlook 2015 launch presentation. Accessed Jan 2018
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© The Author(s) 2018

Open Access This chapter is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this book are included in the book's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the book's Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hiroshi Komiyama
    • 1
  • Koichi Yamada
    • 2
  1. 1.Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc.Chiyoda-kuJapan
  2. 2.Center for Low Carbon Society StrategyJapan Science and Technology AgencyChiyoda-kuJapan

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