Japan’s growing dependence on coal

A tractor makes its way over a pile of coal at a coal port in Gladstone, Queensland (Photo: REUTERS/Daniel Munoz).

Authors: Florentine Koppenborg, Technical University Munich and Ulv Hanssen, Soka University

Japan’s decision to build 22 new coal-fired power plants makes it an outlier among G7 nations who are moving away from coal. Japan’s coal power plants will exacerbate climate change, which is already predicted to severely impact Japan.

Japan’s coal problem is not new but it took on a new dimension after the March 2011 triple disaster in northeast Japan including the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant. Subsequently, after updating its nuclear safety regulations Japan has struggled to bring nuclear power plants back online, presenting a challenge to its stated goal of having nuclear power make up 20–22 per cent of its electricity generation by 2030.

With nuclear power accounting for as little as 6 per cent of Japan’s electricity supply in 2018, coal has swooped in to fill the gap. Coal’s share of electricity generation reached 32 per cent in 2015 and remained unchanged in 2018. This is 6 per cent higher than the 26 per cent target envisaged in Japan’s 2030 National Energy Plan.

Japan’s reliance on coal threatens to undermine its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to international climate change mitigation efforts under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is despite the fact that Japan’s INDC has already been labelled ‘highly insufficient’ by climate science and policy institutes. Even the Japanese Ministry of Environment admitted that Japan needs to make greater efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Japan’s coal policy and its failure to take action has drawn international criticism. Japan was denied the chance to speak at the …continue reading