As Japan Sanctions Russian Coal, It’s High Time To Stop The Habit Completely


For too long, Japan has relied on coal power at home and promoted it abroad, despite the climate imperative to switch to clean energy

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Japan reluctantly decided join other G7 countries in phasing out Russian coal imports.

Could this signal a break with Tokyo’s pro-coal policies? That seems unlikely given its track record of using loopholes and greenwashing to circumvent global efforts to end coal. While other wealthy countries have slowly moved away from coal, Japan has continued its support for coal power at home and abroad.

Japan is the second biggest funder of coal power projects in other countries, after China. He justifies this funding by misleading framing it like a contribution climate change mitigation, arguing that Japanese coal technology is less polluting than conventional coal technology. The government therefore supports the export of the Japanese”world premiere» from coal-fired power plants to developing countries. This policy is erroneously described as “consistent with the Paris Agreement and aimed at leading global decarbonization efforts”.

strong international repel led to positive developments. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation announcement in 2020 that it “will no longer accept loan applications for coal-fired power generation projects” and some Japanese-funded projects have been canceled. Nevertheless, a recent study found that the world’s three largest lenders to the coal industry were all Japanese banks.

In June 2021, The G7 countries have pledged to make efforts to end coal “as soon as possible” and end “almost” all direct government support for the fossil fuel sector overseas. According to a person involved in the preparation of the G7 declaration, it was mainly at Japan’s insistence that such irritating qualifiers were inserted, weakening the message and allowing for the prolonged use of coal.

The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has declared that Japan intends to keep its coal-fired power plants but will try to “reduce [coal] share as much as possible. However, an anonymous METI official Told the Asahi newspaper that it was “out of the question” to compromise on the share of coal in the Japanese energy mix. This means that the government has no intention of improving its unambitious strategy Basic energy planwhich aims for a coal share of 19% in the electricity mix by 2030.

At G20 meeting in Rome last October, the countries decided to end “public funding for new coal-fired power generation abroad”. On this occasion, Japan declared its intention to “end new direct government support” for such projects. The Japanese wording is important because it leaves the door open to continue supporting overseas coal projects through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Indeed, JICA, due to its legal status as an independent administrative institution, is not technically a government agency even though it operates as such.

Last year’s COP26 climate talks ended with the Glasgow Pact calling for a gradual reduction in coal and fossil fuel subsidies. Many participating countries have signed the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement and one pledge stop funding foreign fossil fuel projects. Japan has signed neither.

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Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has been evasive about phasing out coal. In his Politics speech and his COP26 Speech, he bragged about Japanese environmental leadership, but pointedly avoided any mention of coal. Its chief secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, perfectly expressed the government’s lack of ambition when he insisted that Japan’s plans are “in line” with the Cop26 agreement’s call for a phase-out of coal.

The government is pinning its hopes on “clean coal” technologies like carbon capture and storage to mitigate the climate impact of coal, but the feasibility of these is highly doubtful. A recent report by Transition Zero concluded that these technologies “are expensive with limited carbon reduction potential in the electricity sector”.

In short, Japan has always resorted to semantic acrobatics to extend the life of coal power.

Japan’s continued reliance on coal not only threatens to undermine its “lofty goalto reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, it also risks locking other Asian countries on a similar trajectory of coal dependence.

While Japan will now start banning Russian coal, it should not seek new coal partners, but rather use this moment as an opportunity to move away from coal in earnest. It is high time for Tokyo to join global efforts to contain the climate crisis by reducing emissions from the electricity sector.

Florentine Koppenborg is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the Bavarian School of Public Policy (HfP) at the Technical University of Munich. Ulv Hanssen is Associate Professor at Soka University Law School and Associate Researcher at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.


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