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Japan, seen as advocate of coal, U.S. ally, fails to make presence felt at COP23

By senior writers Kiyoshi Ando, Tomoyuki Kawai in Bonn


Japan failed to make its presence felt in the negotiations at the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) because it was mostly seen as an “advocate of power generation by coal.” It is also beginning to be seen as a force obstructing the reduction of greenhouse gases along with the U.S., which has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement.


When the Powering Past Coal Alliance was announced on Nov. 16, a British government official observed that “the venue was almost torn apart” by the number of supporters and members of the media who gathered for the announcement. This alliance was joined by 26 countries and territories, including Canada, France, and the State of Oregon, but not Japan.


While British Climate Change Minister Claire Perry said that “the door is open for Japan,” she indicated that Japan’s promotion of advanced high-efficiency coal-fired power plants represents inadequate efforts at global warming prevention.


Nagoya University Prof. Yukari Takamura, an expert on environmental issues, says: “There has clearly been a change of tide (toward moving away from coal).” One reason is the effectuation of the Paris Agreement last year. Under the present condition, it will be difficult to achieve the goal of keeping the rise in the earth’s temperature below 2 degrees from the time of the Industrial Revolution. There is a growing consensus in favor of moving away from coal-fired power generation.


The economic merits of coal-fired power generation are also receding with the rapid decline in the cost of renewable energies. Japan’s insistence on coal was seen as strange.


The U.S, which withdrew from the Paris Agreement in June, became the target of NGOs along with Japan. The event organized by the U.S. government to promote high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) coal-fired power plants was criticized.


Japan prioritizes cooperation with the U.S. government. Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa had planned to persuade the U.S. to “retract” its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement at COP23, but was unsuccessful. Bureau chief level talks between the two countries reached agreement on striking a balance between global warming prevention measures and employment and economic considerations.


Takamura is concerned that the “honeymoon” between the Japanese and U.S. governments in global warming prevention “might be taken to mean that they are collaborating on promoting coal-fired power generation.” As a result, Japan’s aid to the developing countries in emission data management, human resources development, and other areas might be overshadowed by the coal issue and might fail to be recognized.


Japan may suffer economic disadvantages if it comes to be avoided in terms of investment and as a business location as a consequence. While it is understandable for each country to take different measures to promote global warming prevention, Japan must not misjudge the general direction of the international community. (Slightly abridged)

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