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Japan green lights new, soon to be stranded, coal assets

coal assets

Creative Commons: Chris Lewis, 2008

Japan has missed the memo about the dire economic and climate risks of fossil fuels, with its Ministry of the Environment taking a u-turn and preparing to ease its opposition to new coal power plants.

In 2015 Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa refused to endorse new coal projects on grounds that they would be inconsistent with the country’s target to reduce emissions 26 per cent on 2013 levels by 2030. However, with nuclear restarts proving slow and coal prices slumping, short-term economic self interest appears to be winning out over Japan’s responsibilities on climate action.

Almost all advanced economies are abandoning coal, as are those – like China – looking for clean development.

However, Japan has is not only looking to build 47 new coal plants at home, it is also supporting new coal abroad, allowing more dirty energy infrastructure to be locked in at time when the international community is cleaning up the climate mess fossil fuels have created.

Key Points

  • The days of advanced economies burning rocks and dinosaurs for energy are over. Japan is one of the only advanced economiesstill looking at coal, and it is likely to be a short lived disaster ending in stranded assets and further economic decline. The future is renewable, and those that fight it will only become increasingly marginalised economically and politically.
  • Japan is gambling its economy and the climate on coal for short term economic gain. While the shutdown of its nuclear fleet in 2011 afforded Japan some sympathy for rising coal use; oil and gas use has been dropping in recent years, and the country now has both a booming renewable industry and precipitously declining population projections. Japan has plenty of energy, and it is now expanding the dirtiest source purely because the fuel is cheap at the moment.
  • Locking in new coal infrastructure hurts international action on climate change. Japan’s support for coal at home and abroad is at odds with both its emissions reduction commitments, and to the spirit of international cooperation on decarbonisation following the Paris Agreement.

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