Japan's greenhouse gas emissions hit a fresh low in fiscal 2020 for the third straight year due to reduced economic activity amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the expansion of renewable energy use, the government said Friday.

National emissions in fiscal 2020 totaled 1.15 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, down 5.1 percent from fiscal 2019 for the seventh straight yearly decline and the lowest figure since comparable data became available in fiscal 1990, the Environment Ministry said.

The ministry cited lower energy consumption caused by reduced production by manufacturers and a decrease in passenger and freight traffic amid the pandemic as factors contributing to the emissions cut.

"Now is the time for further accelerating the introduction of renewables and a thorough implementation of energy conservation measures in light of the situation in Ukraine and the current (energy) environment," Environment Minister Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi said at a press conference.

Russia's invasion of its neighbor Ukraine, launched in late February, has exposed risks for resource-poor Japan's dependence on energy imports from Moscow.

Emissions in the year through March 2021 marked an 18.4 percent drop compared with the fiscal 2013 level, which Japan uses as a base year in pursuing a 46 percent cut by fiscal 2030, mainly due to improved energy conservation and resumption of nuclear power plant operations.

Japan had previously sought a 26 percent reduction compared with the base year.

By gas types, emissions of CO2 decreased to 1.04 billion tons, down 5.8 percent from the previous year, while those of hydrofluorocarbons, which substitute ozone-depleting substances as refrigerants, continued on a rising trend, climbing 4.0 percent.

The industry sector reduced energy-related CO2 emissions by 8.1 percent from the previous year, while such emissions fell 10.2 percent in the transport sector.

Households saw emissions increase by 4.5 percent, likely as people spent more time at home during the pandemic.

The energy conversion sector, which includes power plants and oil refineries, cut emissions by 8.4 percent from the previous year, as emissions from the manufacturing of oil products decreased.

Removal of greenhouse gases by forests and other "carbon sink" measures has continued a declining trend of late, standing at 44.5 million tons of CO2 equivalent in fiscal 2020. The government plans to replace old trees, which are less efficient at absorbing carbon, with younger ones.

When gases absorbed by forests and other carbon sink measures are subtracted from the total emissions, the figure amounted to 1.11 billion tons of CO2 equivalent, a 21.5 percent decline from the fiscal 2013 level, according to the ministry.

Yamaguchi said he plans to submit the figures to the secretariat of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change on Friday as the country's greenhouse gas inventory.

Along with the United States and other countries, Japan aims to become carbon neutral -- an economy with net zero greenhouse gas emissions -- by 2050.

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