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Editorial: Japan’s coal-fired power plant plans could sabotage climate image

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany — or COP23 — wrapped up on Nov. 17.


The participants spent the 12-day meeting speeding up the creation of international rules to enforce the Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, and deciding to implement the content of the “Talanoa dialogue” — talks toward raising country-by-country reduction targets — in 2018.


Bonn was the first COP conference since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement last June. Looking at what got done, it can be said that the countries still on board — which, with Syria signing on earlier this month, is all of them save the U.S. — have managed to maintain cooperative momentum toward greenhouse gas cuts.


Regarding the Paris Agreement rules, developing countries are calling for more lax provisions than those imposed on the world’s rich nations. There are a lot of potentially difficult nuts to crack in these talks, such as how to make up for the hole left in capital support for developing economies when the U.S. backed out of the deal. However, we hope to see all the parties overcome their differences heading into the 2020 deadline for the Paris accord’s implementation.


What was regrettable about the latest COP talks was the criticism heaped on Japan by environmental advocacy NGOs for Tokyo’s emphasis on coal-fired power plants.


Even new, high efficiency coal-fired power plants spew out large quantities of CO2, and are thus seen as the absolute opposite of anti-emissions measures. At the latest COP round, Canada and Britain were among 20 nations and local governments to form a union dedicated to eliminating coal power.


However, on the opening day of the Bonn meeting on Nov. 6, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was having a tete-a-tete with President Trump here in Japan, agreeing to cooperate with the U.S. on the export of high efficiency coal power technology to Southeast Asia and Africa.


With the vast majority of Japan’s nuclear plants still out of operation following the Fukushima meltdowns in 2011, and the more recent deregulation of the electricity market, there are now plans to build more than 40 new coal-fired power stations across the country. International NGOs have not been quiet about their displeasure, taking the unusual step of mounting protests against Japan at the COP meeting venue.


We praise Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa’s promise during ministerial-level talks in Bonn to provide carbon-cutting technology and other support to developing nations. However, if Japan is thought to be pushing back against the worldwide move to ditch coal, our country could be seen as sabotaging international cooperation on climate measures. It may get to the point that Japan will earn no praise even for its efforts to help out poorer countries.


One detail of note about the Bonn conference is how active local government and business representatives were. While Trump may have dumped the Paris Agreement, local bodies apparently representing about half the population and GDP of the U.S. have committed to implementing the accord.


There are many interests at stake in climate policy, including the fate of coal. The issue must be tackled by taking into account and drawing together the wisdom of all the core stakeholders, not just nation states.

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