By Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi
TOKYO (Reuters) – More than 20 countries agreed to phase out coal power at the UN climate talks in Glasgow, but not Japan – a “step backwards” for a country that once paved the way for the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The pact was part of a series of commitments made at the COP26 summit last week. Japan, the world’s third-dirtiest importer of fossil fuels, refused to sign on because it needed to preserve all its power generation options, officials said.
Critics called it myopic, even as new prime minister Fumio Kishida agreed to step up other environmental measures.
“Although Prime Minister Kishida has pledged to invest more in climate finance, we are disappointed that he did not address the elephant in the room – Japan’s dependence on coal,” said Eric Christian Pedersen, Head of Responsible Investments at Danish fund manager Nordea Asset Management. .
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The review highlights the changed situation in Japan. He led climate change efforts during the Kyoto Protocol era of the 1990s, but burned more coal and other fossil fuels after the Fukushima disaster 10 years ago left many inactive nuclear power plants.
GRAPH: Japan’s electricity mix by source since 1985 https://graphics.Reuters.com/JAPAN-POLITICS/jnpweyllqpw/chart.png
Not phasing out coal has “positioned Japan to take a leap backwards by signaling that thermal power plants can continue to operate based on new technologies that don’t exist,” said Kiran Aziz, head of responsible investments at KLP, Norway’s largest pension fund.
China, the world’s largest source of gas fueling climate change, did not sign the pact and President Xi Jinping did not attend the conference. The country said it would reduce its use of coal for electricity by 1.8% over the next five years.
Japan has pledged billions of dollars for vulnerable countries and to support building infrastructure in Asia for renewable energy and cleaner fuels. It also reduced targets for coal use and raised those for renewable energy.
“In Japan, where resources are scarce and the country is surrounded by the sea, there is no perfect energy source,” Noboru Takemoto, deputy director of the industry ministry, told Reuters. “For this reason, Japan does not support the declaration” on coal.
The ministry said last year it would accelerate coal plant shutdowns by 2030, later setting minimum efficiency standards and requiring companies to submit annual updates on disposals.
But companies are resisting such plans, said a senior executive at a major Japanese producer.
“It’s being delayed and dragged on because many companies are saying these units are still working and cheaper,” the executive said, adding that “a leadership push is needed.”
A Reuters survey of Japanese companies operating old coal-fired power plants, including Hokuriku Electric Power and Hokkaido Electric Power, showed that most have not decided on a timetable for closing them.
Hokuriku Electric plans to shut down a single 250-megawatt coal-fired unit in 2024, a spokesman told Reuters,
“Our coal-fired power plants play an important role” in maintaining a stable electricity supply, the spokesman said.
Hokkaido Electric, which closed two coal-fired power plants in 2019, has no closures planned, while the other five companies surveyed said they had no firm proposals. Some are considering using cleaner fuels, such as ammonia, to burn with coal and other technologies to make them run cleaner.
“For pro-coal Japanese companies, what matters most is business, not the planet,” said Mutsuyoshi Nishimura, a former senior Japanese government official and chief climate change negotiator. “It’s sad to see that there is no vision for a better, more sustainable and more competitive Japan.”
(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi. Editing by Gerry Doyle)
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