Make climate action ‘sexy’, says Japan’s new environment minister

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Japan’s new Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi pledged on Sunday to mobilize young people to push his coal-dependent country toward a low-carbon future by making the fight against climate change “sexy” and “fun”.

FILE PHOTO: Japan’s Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi attends a news conference at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

Koizumi was speaking on the eve of a United Nations climate summit in New York where activists plan to float an airship showing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emerging from a bucket of coal to protest Japan’s pans for build new coal-fired power plants.

“In politics, there are so many problems, sometimes annoying. Tackling an issue of such magnitude as climate change must be fun, must be cool. It must be sexy too,” Koizumi said at a press conference in New York.

“We are committed to achieving a low-carbon society, and we are ready to contribute as a more powerful country in the fight against climate change,” he said.

Japanese students in Tokyo were among millions of young people who took to the streets on Friday to express their fear and outrage at governments’ failure to control greenhouse gas emissions, which have hit a record high last year.

Considered a rising star on Japan’s political scene, Koizumi, 38, became the third-youngest lawmaker to join a Japanese cabinet after World War II when Abe announced a reshuffle this month.

The son of charismatic former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, he is regularly seen by voters as the lawmaker they would most like to see in the top job when Abe steps down.

Although Japan is not scheduled to speak at the climate summit on Monday, Koizumi said he was in New York to learn about the status of negotiations on global greenhouse gas emissions and meet Japanese students.

He was speaking alongside Christiana Figueres, architect of the 2015 Paris agreement to fight global warming, who had invited him to meet various companies and banks aiming to accelerate investment in clean energy projects in Asia.

“It is incumbent on the rest of the world to come together to support Japan, as well as other Asian countries, to move beyond coal,” said Figueres, a Costa Rican diplomat who now leads Mission 2020, a campaign to accelerate climate action.

“We need to make an extraordinary effort that will favor the new fuels that we all need to move towards,” she said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told governments they should only come to the summit if they come armed with more ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement, which will enter a crucial implementation phase next year.

Guterres also urged governments not to build new coal-fired power plants after 2020, putting him at odds with Japan, which is the only G7 country to add coal-fired power generation capacity. Japan’s government and banks also play an important role in financing new coal-fired power plants elsewhere in Asia.

Still, Koizumi said he wants Japan to do more on the climate, citing his country’s role in crafting the Kyoto Protocol, a climate treaty reached in the Japanese city of Kyoto in 1997.

“We haven’t taken strong action and strong leadership since then, but from now on, from today, we want to do more,” Koizumi said, without giving details.

Koizumi sparked controversy shortly after his appointment when he said at his first press conference that he wanted Japan to shut down nuclear reactors to avoid a repeat of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Isshu Sugawara, newly appointed Minister of Commerce, responded by saying that it would be unrealistic to rid Japan of nuclear energy.

Koizumi reiterated his opposition to nuclear power on Sunday. “I want to achieve a society, a country, without fear of nuclear crisis,” he said. “But it’s not easy, it’s a complicated question. But I will do my best to reduce nuclear power in the future.

Reporting by Matthew Green; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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