Anxious to deflect surging international criticism for its continuing commitment to exporting coal power to developing countries, Japan is vowing to tighten its export policies to align them with the demands of the 2015 Paris Agreement. But details remain under wraps and environmentalists are unimpressed.
Under the country’s current energy policy, reports Japan Times, a potential customer seeking to import coal-fired power must possess “no other reasonable options for alternative energy sources”, as well as its own comprehensive climate policy. It must petition the Japanese government directly through official channels and must prove that the coal-fired power systems being used meet “the basic standards of Ultra Supercritical Coal”—that they’re modern and highly efficient, with “often lower heat waste, pollution, and carbon emission.”
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The move is “a significant decision that brings Japan one step closer to achieving carbon neutrality,” said Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, adding that the government intends to stiffen regulations around coal-power exports even further.
Japanese environmentalists, however, wrote the announcement off as a diversion tactic. Takayoshi Yokoyama of 350 Japan said the country “can’t afford to focus only on what’s happening abroad and thereby neglect the construction of new coal power plants in Japan.”
Japan Times adds that, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement, the country should have its Paris-compliant climate policy ready for review by November, in time for COP 26 in Glasgow. But the plan will not actually be unveiled until December, and Japan’s overall energy policy isn’t scheduled for release until later in 2021.
And then there is the reality of the private sector. Japan Times points to a recent report by German non-profit Urgewald, Dutch bank watchdog BankTrack, and 30 other NGOs that identified Japan’s three biggest commercial banks—Mizuho Financial Group, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group—as global giants in the world of new coal power-plant financing. Together, they’re responsible for 32% of direct loans for coal plant construction since January 2017.
Reuters notes that Japan “is seen as an outlier among industrialized countries, as it is the only G7 nation still be building coal-fired plants at home.”