【News】With no coal exit policy, Japan falls short at COP26

In November 2021, the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Glasgow, UK, concluded with the adoption of the Glasgow Climate Pact, an outcome document that aims to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C. COP26 was also a forum to discuss how to strengthen 2030 emission reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement with the goal to “Keep 1.5 Alive” (making the 1.5°C target achievable) based on the premise of divesting from coal.

However, in Glasgow, Japan not only won an early “Fossil of the Day” award at the start of the conference, but also seems to have further slipped behind, as other developed countries continue to make progress towards the Paris goal. Following are a few of those reasons.

1) Japan did not sign the joint statement ending support for new coal-fired power generation

Coinciding with COP26’s Energy Day, the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, a joint statement to end support for new coal-fired power generation, was announced on November 4th. The agreement calls for developed countries to phase out unabated (without CO2 emission reduction measures) coal-fired power generation in the 2030s at the latest, and for the world as a whole to phase- out coal-fired power generation in the 2040s. At the time of announcement, 77 signatories, including 46 national governments (23 of which pledged for the first time, albeit with conditions, such as Indonesia, South Korea, Poland, Vietnam, and Chile) had joined in signing the statement. However, despite strong urging from the British government, Japan has not signed.

2) Japan did not announce a phase-out of coal-fired power plants

Members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are strongly urged to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2030, and many countries have already announced their intention to phase out coal. It was expected that Japan, which has not yet announced its intention to phase out its coal-fired power plants, would do so at COP 26. However, Japan did not even mention coal-fired power at all. Considering that many countries have already achieved a coal phase-out or are steadily taking measures with a phase-out target year, Japan’s failure to announce the phase-out of coal-fired power generation will only lower its reputation in the international community.

3) Japan is instead attempting to hasten the use of hydrogen and ammonia

Not only did Prime Minister Kishida not mention coal-fired power in his speech on the second day of the Glasgow conference, but he also laid out a plan to develop technologies to use hydrogen and ammonia for power generation both at home and abroad. The technologies to use hydrogen and ammonia as fuels have not yet been established, and according to the plans of the relevant companies, full-scale commercialization is not expected to be feasible until the 2040s or later. Moreover, presently we cannot say with confidence that we will be able to decarbonize if we co-fire coal with hydrogen produced from fossil fuel (brown hydrogen) or use thermal power to produce ammonia.This is clearly in effect a measure to extend the life of coal-fired power plants, and it is unreasonable to claim that this is coal-fired power that has been “abated”. PM Kishida’s speech earned Japan a Fossil of the Day award.

4) No mention of coal in Japan’s COP26 report??

The IPCC report states that, to limit the rise to 1.5°C (67% probability), the estimated residual carbon budget from the beginning of 2020 is only 400 billion tons (CO2 equivalent), and that CO2 emissions need to be halved by 2030. Additionally, the tipping point can occur even within the range of the limited temperature increase in the Paris Agreement, indicating the need to respond with urgency. Based on this sense of urgency, the Glasgow Climate Pact included a reference to a “phasedown” of coal-fired power generation in the pursuit of efforts to limit the increase in the global average temperature to 1.5℃ in 2100, which will impact climate change less than 2℃. However, there was zero mention of coal in the Japanese government’s COP26 report.

5) With one year to go before 2022 is over, will Japan review its NDC?

It is clear that even if all countries’ national targets (NDCs) submitted by the parties to the Paris Agreement are implemented, the world is still far from achieving the 1.5°C target. For this reason, the Glasgow Climate Pact requires countries to submit updated NDCs by the end of 2022 that revisit and strengthen their 2030 target. The sense of urgency has risen to the point where the NDCs, which are supposed to be reviewed every five years, need to be further strengthened immediately. Therefore, of course Japan should also review its NDCs, but it was stated during an extraordinary session of the Diet after COP26 that the Glasgow Climate Pact has the same general meaning and message as Japan’s domestic policy.

According to the International Energy Agency report “Net Zero by 2050, A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector”, developed countries must eliminate by 2030 coal-fired power plants not equipped with carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). The Japanese government announced its new greenhouse gas reduction target (46% from 26%, compared to 2013 levels) at the Leaders Summit on Climate in April 2021, but left coal power at around 19% in the 2030 energy mix, and has not set a target year for a coal phase-out. The report also highlights the period from now to 2030 as a “critically important decade”, and strongly urges emission reduction efforts towards 2030. Because Japan is continuing to promote coal-fired power even after the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the international community has pointed out that Japan’s climate change policy is lagging behind the rest of the world. Japan should immediately present a roadmap and concrete steps to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction targets, as well as review its energy mix and strengthen its NDCs to align them with the Paris Agreement.


Common terms:

Unabated coal

As noted by the climate change think tank E3G, the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement at COP26 clearly aims to accelerate a transition away from “coal power that is not mitigated with technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, such as Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS)”.
◆ Explained: what does ‘unabated coal’ mean? (E3G)


Carbon budget

The upper limit of cumulative greenhouse gas emissions (past emissions plus future emissions) when trying to limit temperature rise to a certain number. In addition to the accumulation from the past, it is possible to calculate how much greenhouse gas emissions are allowed in the future. If the temperature rise is to be limited to 1.5℃, there is only a small carbon budget left, and further emission reductions are required.
◆ Carbon Budgets Explained (Carbon Tracker)


Tipping point

The tipping point in regard to climate change is the critical point at which irreversible changes in the Earth’s climate occur. It is believed that due to human activities, the Earth is approaching a tipping point for massive irreversible changes. In order to avoid this, action is required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
◆ Glossary (IPCC)