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As a key United Nations conference on climate change in Madrid entered its final days, Japan faced a barrage of criticism over its continued support for coal following a speech Wednesday by Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi.

Koizumi, speaking at the conference known as COP25, acknowledged the domestic and international criticism toward Japan’s coal use, but defended the government’s policy by saying the country was not getting enough credit for its efforts to move to other, more environmentally friendly energy sources.

“Of course I am aware of global criticism, including on our coal-related policies,” Koizumi said. “A growing number of people in Japan, including myself, believe further climate actions must be taken.”

He stressed that Japan is taking concrete steps toward decarbonization.

“We have reduced greenhouse gas emissions five years in a row. Japan joined the Carbon Neutrality Coalition in September. These actions and results have been overshadowed by criticism of our coal policy,” he said.

The CNC is a group of 29 countries, as well as over 100 cities, that are committed to developing long-term, low greenhouse gas emission development strategies by the end of next year to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement, and to transition to a net-zero emissions future. Under the Paris deal, the world agreed to keep the global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius and make all efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

“Japan may not be perceived as fully committed. That is not true. Japan is fully committed and we will deliver,” Koizumi said.

But his speech was blasted by environmental groups as being little more than empty rhetoric.

“Despite his passionate way of speaking, the Japanese environment minister … made  no mention of a phaseout plan for coal-fired power, nor a more ambitious 2030 emissions reduction target, both of which are essential for any credible action by Japan on climate change,” said Takayoshi Yokoyama, head of the environmental group 350.org Japan.

“To be seen as fully committed to climate action, Japan needs to stop funding coal,” Yokoyama said.

In his speech, Koizumi was blunt in saying the country cannot announce a phaseout of coal right away. “I am afraid I cannot share new development on our coal policy today,” he said.

Yokoyama said that the most effective action by Japan toward decarbonization would be to cancel its support for coal-fired power development at home and abroad, and increase support for renewable energy.

Ayumi Fukakusa, a climate change and energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth Japan, noted the nation’s support for coal technology exports was especially problematic.

“Koizumi admitted to global criticism about Japan’s coal addiction and said ‘Japan is committed and will deliver,’ but did not specify what and when,” Fukakusa said.

The government must reject financing for any more coal power projects and raise ambitions with a concrete plan for a coal phaseout, she added.

During the annual U.N. COP conferences, a network of 1,300 international and domestic nongovernmental organizations nominate a country they believe to be hindering progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions for a “Fossil of the Day” award. On Wednesday Japan received the award for the second time.

“Actions critical of Japan’s coal policy have increased at this year’s COP conference compared to previous years, and many people from developing countries who are seeing environmental damage due to the climate crisis are strongly calling for an immediate halt to the export of coal (technology),” said Kimiko Hirata, a longtime attendee of COP conferences and international director of Kiko Network, a Japan-based climate change NGO.

Koizumi and other environment ministers arrived earlier this week to hammer out an agreement that is supposed to set rules on carbon trading, among other topics.

Nations have also been asked to adopt stricter short-term greenhouse gas emissions targets. To meet the lower 1.5 C target of the Paris agreement, there needs to be a 7.6 percent annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through 2030, and a 2.6 percent reduction to limit warming to 2 degrees.

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