A setback for emissions cuts?

The recent turnaround in the Environment Ministry’s position on the construction of new coal-fired thermal power plants, which it had earlier opposed out of concern that more of such plants would undermine Japan’s goal of cutting its emissions of global warming gases, seems yet another indication that near-term cost factors prevail in the nation’s energy policy. The power industry’s rush to coal — which is cheaper than natural gas but emits roughly double the amount of carbon dioxide when burned as fuel in power plants — and the government’s support come in sharp contrast with the moves in other advanced economies to cut back on its use.

The Environment Ministry is reported to have reversed its objections after the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry promised to beef up its supervision of the power industry’s voluntary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The government must not leave the efforts in the hands of the industry. It should take effective steps to ensure that emissions from the power sector, which account for 40 percent of Japan’s total, are steadily reduced.

Japan’s power companies have significantly relied on fossil fuel-generated electricity since the 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant led most of the nation’s nuclear power plants to be idled. Not only the major utilities but new entrants to the electricity retail market in the upcoming liberalization in April plan to build large numbers of new coal-fired thermal power plants because coal is less expensive than liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel. The Abe administration’s policy on energy mix envisions that coal-fired thermal power, which accounted for 30 percent of the nation’s total electricity generation in 2013, will cover 26 percent of the total power supply in 2030.

But regulations on coal-fired power plants are being tightened in many other countries due to concerns over their impact on climate change. Regulations in the United States and Britain have made it difficult to build new coal-fired plants, while existing plants have been subject to tighter emissions controls.

Last year, the Environment Ministry refused to endorse the planned construction of five new coal-fired power plants in Yamaguchi, Aichi, Chiba and Akita prefectures in its environment assessment of the plans on the grounds that such plants would endanger the government’s pledge to reduce Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 by 26 percent from 2013 levels.

The ministry said it reversed its objections because METI, which oversees the power industry, has pledged to guide the power firms in achieving their voluntary goals to cut carbon dioxide emissions. The industry has set a target of cutting its emissions per 1 kw of electricity sales in 2030 by 35 percent from the 2013 level, and plans to set up a new organization comprising 36 companies to control and monitor the reduction plans by each of the firms. METI also reportedly plans to set numerical targets on the efficiency of thermal power plants, including coal-fired facilities, and prod power companies to scrap inefficient plants.

But it’s not clear whether the industry’s voluntary efforts will work as promised. The Environment Ministry says it will regularly monitor progress in the industry’s efforts and will call for a review of government measures if the power companies are falling short of their goals. But such actions might prove too late to rein in Japan’s emissions.

The Paris agreement reached in December at the United Nations conference on climate change calls on countries around the world to hold the increase in global average temperature to less than 2 degrees above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. It’s clear that the plans submitted by governments to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, including Japan’s 26 percent cut by 2030, will fail to keep the climate change within the target. The governments are being urged to do more.

The accord also calls on the countries to reduce emissions as quickly as possible to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks” such as forests that absorb greenhouse gases — meaning to cut emissions effectively to zero — in the second half of this century. It’s unclear if the construction of large numbers of coal-fired power plants, which would be in operation for the coming 40 to 50 years if they’re built now, will be consistent with the efforts required in the pact. The government and the power industry should think again whether their focus on near-term cost competitiveness of coal-fired plants would not affect their long-term efforts to combat climate change.

  • Starviking

    Japan’s power companies have significantly relied on fossil fuel-generated electricity since the 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant led most of the nation’s nuclear power plants to be idled.

    Low-carbon plants which were idled largely due to the efforts of a misinformed and/or partisan media, this paper included.

    Not only the major utilities but new entrants to the electricity retail market in the upcoming liberalization in April plan to build large numbers of new coal-fired thermal power plants because coal is less expensive than liquefied natural gas (LNG) as fuel.

    A liberalization which was touted as a golden opportunity for renewable energy by the media, yet again including this paper.

    Does the writer of this editorial not feel the slightest bit of shame for being part of an organisation which pushed for these changes to Japan’s electricity sector, but either did not think about the outcome – or did not care to think about it in case that led them away from dogma?

    • Christina Tsuchida

      I think that Starviking is from another planet to use the word “dogma” here. The Japan Times is not religious. Writers make mistakes and about-turns. JT writers had hoped for RENEWABLE energy plants, viz. solar, wind, hot spa (etc.) generated electricity, did they not?
      The problem is not easy to solve rationally (nuclear is dangerous; fossil fuel is destructive; really renewable energy is still expensive and experimental).
      MAYBE the slow-down of economies due to whatever is going on in the stock market will deplete the demand for electricity and help ease the crisis around the world. The financial loss of good stewardship of the environment that we would not plan to accept (out of greed for life-styles as usual) may be in store anyway.

      • Starviking

        Christina, the use of the word “dogma” does not link to religiosity, The Oxford English Dictionary defines “Dogma” as:

        a belief or set of beliefs held by a group or organization, which others are expected to accept without argument

        You say,

        JT writers had hoped for RENEWABLE energy plants

        And when I plan a trip, I could just hope for good weather, or I could do a little bit of research. If the forecast is bad, I modify my plans to suit reality. It can be disappointing, but better than being stuck in snow miles from anywhere.

        Much like my trip planning, JT and other media organisations could have done some research – and perhaps they could have helped prevent this explosion of coal power coming to pass. Sadly, dogma got in the way.

        I think that Starviking is from another planet

        The clue’s in the name.

      • Christina Tsuchida

        I agree about the word “dogma” but the JT relies only on persuasion by reason, does it not?
        Also, as far as I know the part of this planet on Japan, English papers are like 19th century journal articles: private (19th-cent. lectures, like later TV, being public) . Thus, they are not very influential, at least in their own Japan.
        The retreat from nuke power was made by everybody en mass. The partial return is controversial, but opponents of nuke-generated power are not in positions of power to dictate coal or no coal. Perhaps this article’s writer wishes to change the course of Japan’s leaders through outside pressure begun with this small paper (alas scarcely read abroad, perhaps). One does not expect to change the leaders’ views directly, I suppose.

        Above, I used the word “hope” to mean both “wish” and “expect”. I do not use it to mean magically demanding something from reality, as you seem to have taken it.

      • Starviking

        The individual influence of the JT is not of major concern – they are a part of the media the lack of depth of their consideration of important topics is. They are supposed to inform, and often they do not – especially in case concerning nuclear and renewables.

        Above, I used the word “hope” to mean both “wish” and “expect”. I do not use it to mean magically demanding something from reality, as you seem to have taken it.

        I’ve a background in the sciences, often what is published in the media – under the assumption that it is wished for and expected – is actually magically demanding something from reality for a scientific perspective.

      • Christina Tsuchida

        My previous writing esp. on this article is very poor, it seems to me now. If you still have the patience to read on, I will try to do better.
        It seems Starviking is advocating returning to nuke-power reliance because it is low-carbon[your first comment on this article]. Is that right?
        Contrary to what is commonly said, nuke-power-generation DOES heat the earth. It does so directly through the cooling systems of the fuel rods. Whether that is in the air or in the water, it does put out heat.
        Also, it creates radioactive waste. This may be “burned” in fusion plants, but they also produce radioactive waste of another kind, right? We can scarcely improve our own economy a little, it seems. Then how can we guarantee that our descendants will be able to cope with the waste? Where will they get the resources to protect it from leaking and from theft?
        Renewable energy sources are less experimental and less expensive than previously they were. This deserves looking into more.
        I agree we should oppose coal plants, but that is just what the JT article does, does it not?

      • Sam Gilman

        Hi Christina,

        I don’t intend to speak for Starviking, whose science background exceeds mine. However, we do share the same position as far as I can tell. Nuclear is low carbon (ref here), and it also directly pollutes less than coal does. These coal plants will likely kill more people every week than the highest mainstream projections of deaths from Fukushima Daiichi radiation releases over many tens of years into the future simply from run-of-the-mill pollution, setting aside the contribution to global warming. Reference is here, showing the comparative death tolls from coal, gas and nuclear.

        I think you may have misunderstood what is causing global warming. It doesn’t stem from our production of heat directly. It is the release of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) into the air that serve to trap more of the heat from the sun. (The sun is a huge source of energy dwarfing anything we have here: the greenhouse effect as it is creates a 33C increase in temperature over the whole planet, and greenhouse gas emissions are making that stronger).

        Global warming is already disastrous. The World Health Organisation estimates it was killing 150,000 extra a year already by the mid 2000s, and that was just from the direct impact of climate change on diseases and so on. Reference is here. This is expected to rise to 250,000 a year. (reference) Excluded rom that are conflicts, such as the war in Syria and indeed the whole outbreak of violence across the Middle East and North Africa, which was precipitated by a drought that was likely caused by global warming. Reference is <a href="http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/WCAS-D-13-00059.1here. That’s affected tens of millions of people in deaths and traumatic displacement. One sixth of all species are expected to die out by the end of this century due to global warming. Reference here. Our large scale releases of CO2 aren’t just warming the planet, but also acidifying the oceans. This threatens huge marine ecosystems and the food supply of at least billion people. Reference here. It’s all a bit frightening.

        It’s in that context that both Starviking and I are very keen to advocate the use of nuclear power alongside solar and wind power and other low carbon sources. These other sources are fine but there are incredibly serious challenges to decarbonising energy if we don’t also use nuclear, which is why the IPCC and IEA call for an increase in nuclear to combat climate change. The reason is simple: nuclear is on all the time, just like a coal plant. No matter how much we support wind and solar (and we should), for that part of the electricity system that needs to be always on – it’s called baseload – we have very few low carbon options. Basically hydro and nuclear, and hydro needs the right geography. (If you’re interested in general in the prospects for renewables in Japan, I’m happy to go over this. The short version is Japan’s geography – high levels of forestation, low wind, and high population density – mean renewable resources are limited) If you look at Germany’s attempts to exit nuclear while decarbonising, you’ll see their emissions have more or less ceased falling despite a large increase in renewables because of how difficult it is to exit coal and nuclear at the same time. They’ll make progress, but appallingly slow progress.

        So, while it may seem strange to advocate for nuclear here in Japan after Fukushima, once you look at the bigger picture both in terms of direct harm to the population here and harm worldwide and to ecosystems more broadly through global warming (and when you look at the actual likely health effects of Fukushima as described by bona fide internationally respected scientists rather than some of the cranks and fringe theorists whose work gets too much of an airing in the JT – which I suspect is what Starviking is alluding to), it shouldn’t seem strange at all.

      • Christina Tsuchida

        Thanks a million for the Website references to your arguments. I read some and recorded all for future thorough reading.
        As I said EVERYBODY had fled nuke-power-generation, but I had warned one advocate of this change that it might lure us all into wars for oil (as per an article about Germany from years ago in the JT, now out-of-date).

        Yesterday here I ventured to try the opposing side of the debate, and am glad of your support rather for my prior guess. (There was another scientific source for the relative safety of Fukushima Daiichi ‘s “fallout”. If I can locate it, I will upload it later.
        The story of an American teacher of English who fled Tokyo for Kansai upon hearing US gov’t. warnings after Fukushima’s tsunami, abandoning his students, I poo-pooed with the fact that the Diet members and PM did not flee!! For me, this was more convincing than statistics, which can be interpreted variously by biased sources, to some extent.)

        When I get time, I want to look up the reference in one of your references to the issue of nuke waste management (Kharecha, P. A.; Kutscher, C. F.; Hansen, J. E.; Mazria, E. Options for near-term phaseout of CO2 emissions from coal use in the United States. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2010, 44, 4050−4062. ). Alas, I fear Japan has more problems than USA, due to lack of land mass/capita.

      • Sparafucile

        You should know the WHO’s estimates are bunk, as every one of them is unsourced and unsupported by any *actual* data.

        As for cranks in JT, I suppose the paper’s just trying to compete with its freqently-more-ludicrous paired partner — the New York Times. I actually look at JT for news, and then pull out the second section for humor… (but I love how they got a story about Sharp different than nearly every other source I saw).

      • Sam Gilman

        Everyone, meet Sparafucile.

        He’s a global warming denialist with a strange, intensely personal obsession with the head of the NASA Goddard Centre, climatologist Gavin Schmidt. He follows me round on the Internet occasionally.

      • Sparafucile

        The chilly air is freezing your brain.

        I adore how you can refute nothing I write, and can support nothing you assert without appealing to propagandists.

        If you had **DATA** to support your premature conclusions, you’d be shouting it from the cloudy top of Mt Fuji, wouldn’t you?

        But you don’t.

        And neither does anybody else.

      • Sam Gilman

        I have had several conversations with you before. They all consist of you claiming the world’s scientific community don’t understand the scientific method, but when asked to explain yourself or critique the details of climate science, you go into meltdown, resort to insults and then flounce. And go on about Gavin Schmidt’s PhD.

      • Sparafucile

        You seem to think you know the voice of “the world’s scientific community”. But apart from repeatedly demonstrating that you don’t understand the first thing about how the scientific method works, you selectively adopt confirming analyses while rejecting falsifying data. But even better, you choose to take the word of self-interested propagandists, over the reams of actual, empirical data, which you deny profusely.

        Your degree’s in what, again? And you’re here in Japan working for which bank or agricultural collective?

      • Starviking

        Christina, the use of the word “dogma” does not link to religiosity, The Oxford English Dictionary defines “Dogma” as:

        a belief or set of beliefs held by a group or organization, which others are expected to accept without argument

        You say,

        JT writers had hoped for RENEWABLE energy plants

        And when I plan a trip, I could just hope for good weather, or I could do a little bit of research. If the forecast is bad, I modify my plans to suit reality. It can be disappointing, but better than being stuck in snow miles from anywhere.

        Much like my trip planning, JT and other media organisations could have done some research – and perhaps they could have helped prevent this explosion of coal power coming to pass. Sadly, dogma got in the way.

        I think that Starviking is from another planet

        The clue’s in the name.

      • Starviking

        Christina, the use of the word “dogma” does not link to religiosity, The Oxford English Dictionary defines “Dogma” as:

        a belief or set of beliefs held by a group or organization, which others are expected to accept without argument

        You say,

        JT writers had hoped for RENEWABLE energy plants

        And when I plan a trip, I could just hope for good weather, or I could do a little bit of research. If the forecast is bad, I modify my plans to suit reality. It can be disappointing, but better than being stuck in snow miles from anywhere.

        Much like my trip planning, JT and other media organisations could have done some research – and perhaps they could have helped prevent this explosion of coal power coming to pass. Sadly, dogma got in the way.

        I think that Starviking is from another planet

        The clue’s in the name.