【News】G7 Ministerial Meeting: Japan commits to coal phase-out, sets date to predominantly decarbonize power sector

On May 27, 2022, meetings between ministers of the environment, climate and energy of the Group of Seven (G7) countries (Japan, Germany, US, UK, France, Canada, Italy) concluded ahead of the G7 Summit to be held on June 26-28.

At these meetings, climate and environment ministers from member countries worked to establish new climate commitments and collectively set a pathway to phase out fossil fuels and transition their countries to clean energy. The result of the meetings was a communique summarizing terms and commitments agreed to by the G7 ministers, and in this were some significant new developments in Japan’s path to ending its dependence on coal.

Notable is that for the first time, Japan has committed to completely phasing out its use of coal-fired power. Although a phase-out date was not set – something sorely needed when a 2030 coal phase-out is necessary in OECD countries to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5℃ – G7 members stated their commitment to take “concrete and timely steps towards the goal of an eventual phase-out of domestic unabated coal power generation.” While Japan had agreed to “accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power” in 2021’s Glasgow Climate Pact, this communique marks the first time Japan has explicitly committed to phasing out unabated coal-fired power from the country’s energy mix.

In addition to committing to a coal phase-out, one important date was agreed upon in regard to domestic fossil fuel use: Ministers agreed to achieve “predominantly decarbonised electricity sectors by 2035, prioritising, consistent with our 2030 NDCs, our power sector transition commitments and our respective net zero commitments.”

Although what percentage of the energy mix is considered “predominantly” has yet to be clearly defined, the International Energy Agency (IEA) states in its 2050 Net Zero Roadmap that phasing out unabated coal-fired power by 2030 and reducing unabated gas power generation to less than 2% of the energy mix by 2035 are key milestones for G7 countries to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

However, even though Japan has committed to net zero emissions in 2050, issues surrounding the interpretation of the term “predominantly” have already begun to surface; Japan’s Ministry of the Environment has already stated that they consider “predominantly” to mean more than 50% of Japan’s energy sector will be decarbonized, while at the same time acknowledging that the other G7 countries will not allow such an interpretation.

In addition to domestic commitments, G7 climate ministers also made a significant international public finance commitment, declaring an end to “new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022, except in limited circumstances clearly defined by each country that are consistent with a 1.5 °C warming limit and the goals of the Paris Agreement.” Although this language too leaves room for interpretation and loopholes, science shows that in order for the world to meet the Paris 1.5 goal, OECD countries must phase out coal-fired power by 2030, with the rest of the world ending coal-fired generation by 2040.

The commitments stated in the G7 ministers’ communique represent a significant step forward on Japan’s path to phasing out coal and achieving a decarbonized society. However, the commitments also lack the sense of urgency necessary to avoid the climate crisis; phasing out coal-fired power in Japan by 2030 is an essential step to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement and preventing climate change’s worst impacts.

At the upcoming G7 Summit to be held on June 26-28, Prime Minister Kishida should not drag his feet and reluctantly follow the rest of the G7’s strengthening of climate change measures, but instead should take the lead and actively endorse a coal-free world by 2030.

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