Japan is considering ending state support to build coal-fired power plants abroad in line with international efforts to curb global warming, government sources said Monday.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga could announce the move as early as at an April 22-23 virtual summit on climate change hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, the sources said.
In all, 40 world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, have been asked to attend the two-day meeting meant to mark Washington’s return to the front lines of the fight against man-made climate change, after former President Donald Trump disengaged from the process.
The meeting comes as the world is lagging badly in its efforts to limit end-of-century warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which scientists say is necessary to avoid triggering climate tipping points that would leave much of the planet inhospitable.
Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on the Group of Seven industrialized countries to take the lead in reducing coal use for power generation as part of efforts to fight climate change.
In a video message aired at a summit of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, co-chaired by Britain and Canada, Guterres said the “main emitters and coal users should announce their phase-out plans well before” the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow in November. “G7 members should take the lead and commit to this phase-out at the G7 June summit at the latest,” he added.
The U.N. chief also asked the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development “to commit to phasing out coal by 2030,” and urged non-OECD countries to do so by 2040.
Coal can be an attractive form of power generation for developing countries because of its low cost, but it produces more carbon dioxide than natural gas or renewable sources such as solar and wind.
Japan has been criticized for continuing to give state support to export coal-fired power plants in the form of loans from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).
Last July, Japan tightened its criteria for backing such projects, only allowing them in countries that are making efforts to reduce carbon emissions and those that have no choice but to turn to coal due to financial reasons.
The stricter criteria, which include a numerical requirement for power generation efficacy, are included in a new government strategy of infrastructure exports for the five years from 2021.
The shift reflects Japan’s ambivalence as it wants to contribute to global efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions while continuing with its export-boosting policy.
Ending state support altogether would be a step further and comes as the Biden administration’s focus on tackling climate change builds international momentum for decarbonization.
Suga has said going green will be a key driver of growth for Japan’s economy.
With the goal of making Japan carbon neutral by 2050, he has pledged to unveil an “ambitious” new target for reducing carbon emissions through 2030 ahead of the U.N. conference on climate change in November.
JBIC Gov. Tadashi Maeda said earlier this month that the state-run lender has no immediate plans to finance any new coal-power projects.
Japan’s commercial banks, including Mizuho Financial Group Inc. and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., have pledged to phase out coal power financing amid pressure from environmental groups and investors.
In recent years, Japan has been seeking to seize the opportunity to export quality infrastructure amid burgeoning demand in emerging nations in Asia and beyond, with a target of ¥30 trillion worth of orders in 2020.
China, under its Belt and Road initiative, is scrambling to expand its sphere of influence beyond its borders via infrastructure development projects in Asia, Europe and Africa.
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