the problem

Japan still heavily relies on coal power

Even today, Japan is still heavily dependent on coal power.

The national energy policy prioritizes coal as an important source of electricity, and coal accounts for about 30% of Japan’s electricity generation (2019).

Additionally, since 2012 Japan has been planning construction of many new coal-fired power plants, so new coal plants will continue to be built even beyond 2020.

Today, Japan is the only G7 country still promoting coal power, despite knowing its role in accelerating climate change.

Why does Japan still promote coal?

Not only has Japan built many coal-fired power plants domestically, it has also been exporting them overseas. During rapid economic growth in the mid-20th century, Japan experienced serious pollution problems from its coal-burning factories and made efforts to develop and upgrade air pollution control technologies. 

Coal power technologies have been an important pillar of business for major Japanese plant makers and power utilities, and a narrative has been promoted that Japan has the world’s highest standards for coal technology. As a long-time backer of this industry, the government could not change its course to move away from coal.

However, even with the best technologies and the most extensive anti-pollution measures, a substantial amount of CO2 will still be emitted when coal is burned – that’s just the nature of coal.

Japan has stuck with coal-fired power technology despite being fully aware of the serious impacts coal has on the climate. As a result, Japan’s climate response has lagged far behind the rest of the world.

Japan imports nearly all of its coal

In the past, Japan’s coal came from its coal mines, but nearly all of those mines have since closed. Today, nearly 100% of coal used in Japan is imported, with the majority coming from Australia and Indonesia. From the perspective of energy self-sufficiency, a continued reliance on coal comes with huge risks.

A dependence on imports means paying vast sums of money overseas to buy fuel. Coal is often seen as an inexpensive fossil fuel, but coal prices tend to be unstable and volatile. A continued coal dependency would mean Japan must keep paying those fuel prices far into the future. Meanwhile, renewable energy has become cheaper in Japan, so it can no longer be said that continuing to use coal makes economic sense.

At one time, coal was considered necessary for a stable supply of electricity, but the global situation has seen dramatic changes. Today, it can no longer be considered a reliable energy source.

Japan’s coal policy depends on the government’s policies and political decisions. But if we give more attention to climate change and look for ways to influence those policy decisions, it is possible to make a significant contribution to reducing CO2 emissions and help stop climate change.