The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on July 3 announced plans to minimize power generation from low-efficiency coal-fired power plants that release large amounts of carbon dioxide by fiscal 2030.
The growing global trend away from coal is finally prodding the slow-moving government into action. Japan must ensure this will be the first step toward ending reliance on coal and expanding renewable energy in its broader battle against the climate crisis.
Under the Paris Agreement on climate change, the international community aims to achieve net zero CO2 emissions in the latter half of this century.
Coal-fired thermal plants are responsible for about 30 percent of global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion. A good number of nations, mainly in Europe, are planning to eliminate those plants between 2020 and 2040.
In tandem with this steady shift from coal, use of solar, wind and other renewables is growing on a global scale. Even China and India, which still rely heavily on coal and count among the world’s top generators of CO2, are no exception to this trend.
Japan continues to position coal as one of its baseload power sources. Its renewable energy targets have remained shabby by international standards, and the country has been criticized for its backwardness in dealing with global warming.
According to its July 3 announcement, the government plans a 90-percent reduction in output from 114 old and inefficient coal-fired plants, out of all 140 coal-fired plants around the nation.
To encourage greater use of renewables, the government will also review the rules for using power transmission lines.
The argument can be made that Japan has finally started moving away from coal.
However, the cutback in low-efficiency coal-fired thermal generation and the promotion of renewables as a baseload power source are already written into the nation’s current basic energy policy.
It would be more correct to say that all that is happening is that an already-established policy is starting to move in a specific direction.
In fact, many worrisome factors exist.
The government plans to maintain the fiscal 2030 targets for power source composition that call for 26 percent from coal and 22-24 percent from renewables. It will also continue to allow the construction and operation of high-efficiency coal-fired thermal plants.
The basic stance of relying on coal remains unchanged.
True, high-efficiency models generate less CO2 than their older counterparts. But the emissions are still double those from natural gas-burning thermal plants.
Japan should be doing everything it can to bring the emissions to zero on a net basis. It makes no sense to allow the construction of new thermal plants that will continue to generate CO2 for as long as 40 years.
When the purpose is to drastically reduce emissions, the best approach is to replace coal with renewables, not to replace old coal-fired plants with high-efficiency models.
Nuclear power plants produce no CO2 emissions, but they need to be eliminated over time to avert accidents. Until then, Japan must move fast to use more renewables.
The first step should be to decide to end coal-fired thermal generation for good and set the deadline. The government should fundamentally review the power source composition and draw up a clear plan of action to achieve the new targets.
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is being tested on its commitment to fighting climate crisis in earnest.