TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to burnish his green credentials.
Japan, he said, will exercise “firm leadership” on climate change at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka this week, with a focus on “disruptive innovation” that generates economic growth.
It also was a theme echoed by G-20 energy and environment ministers in their pre-summit meeting in the Japanese town of Karuizawa.
But Abe’s ambitions conceal a dirty secret.
Japan is hooked on coal, and it can’t kick the habit, environmentalists say. It is even helping to keep its Asian neighbors burning coal, too.
Since 2012, Japan has embarked on a major spending spree to modernize its coal industry, which it boasts as one of the cleanest in the world. Japan has 12 new plants already up and running, 15 being built and 10 in the planning stage.
Among the G-20 nations, Japan is the second-biggest source of public funding for new coal plants after China. Japan has had eight new overseas coal plants approved since the signing of the Paris climate accord in 2015. Three Japanese banks are among the top four private lenders to the coal industry around the world, according to Bank Track, a nonprofit group monitoring global finance.
“The climate emergency demands an urgent response from governments across the world,” Greenpeace Japan said in a statement. “To show real climate leadership, the Japanese government needs to stop bankrolling the destruction of the climate.”
‘Reduce its dependency’
The irony is that Japan is the definition of “cutting edge” in Asia, in terms of technology, finance and fashion, said Renato Redentor Constantino, the head of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities in the Philippines.
“The seal of Japan is that it’s efficient, it’s efficient, it’s clean, it’s modern,” he said. “But they are increasingly being seen as tied to the past, to a past the world is trying to leave behind.”
In Karuizawa, Japan’s minister for the economy, trade and industry, Hiroshige Seko, said there had been “serious discussions” about coal at the pre-summit meeting.
But as long as there are still countries dependent on coal-fired power to secure their access to energy, Japan will continue to build coal plants for them, he said, arguing that Japan’s technology emits “far less” carbon dioxide than others’.
“Japan doesn’t think it is all right to use coal-fired power for good,” he said. “Rather, we think we have to reduce its dependency. However, the reality is that there are countries that have to use coal-fired power because of its cost or because of their conditions of electric transmission and grids.”