Japan Has ‘Complex Feelings’ in Overcoming Coal Addiction

(Bloomberg) -- Japan needs to overcome what United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres labeled a “coal addiction,” and the issue is causing mixed feelings among its officials attending climate change talks this week in Madrid.

The COP25 meeting in Spain may boost awareness among the Japanese public of the need to reduce dependency from coal energy, Japan Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi told reporters on Wednesday.

“In Japan, coal power is not seen as problematic as the international community does,” Koizumi said in Japan’s first address to the press at the gathering in years. “There is a plan to build coal-fired plants in Japan, but with that fact in mind I have some complex feelings about attending COP25.”

Japan has come under fire for its continued commitment to coal. The dirtiest fossil fuel makes up about one third of the country’s electricity generation. It’s also the only economy in the Group of Seven still building new coal plants. It’s also a major exporter of coal plant technology.

The country boosted its reliance on coal-fired power in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, which shuttered its fleet of nuclear reactors that accounted for a quarter of the nation’s electricity generation. Japan currently gets roughly a third of its power from coal amid public resistance to restarting the reactors.

The Asian nation has 46.5 gigawatts of existing coal capacity, according to BloombergNEF and another 11 gigawatts in planned. A recent report from Carbon Tracker said Japan faces $71 billion in stranded assets should it pursue coal as a primary source of energy.

“We can’t make a declaration of phasing out of coal or fossil fuels right away,” Koizumi said. “We have to come up with more positive signals and I thought we could do that as the government of Japan, but until COP25, the coordination hasn’t produced such political signal.”

So far, 28 local governments including Tokyo, Kyoto and Yokohama have joined a global initiative to get to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, Koizumi said.

“I believe that we have to go further,” he said. “I will report to the prime minister about what I felt, I have a feeling we can take some positive actions --please watch for that.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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