G7 meeting highlights differences between Japan, Europe on coal-based power

Courtesy of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama participates in an online meeting of G7 climate and environment ministers.

The latest meeting of G7 climate and environment ministers highlighted the gap between European countries, which advocate the early abolition of coal-based power generation, and Japan, whose electricity situation and other factors would make that difficult.

With the trend toward decarbonization gaining momentum around the world, the differences seen at the ministers’ online meeting on Thursday and Friday, have left a source of friction for the G7 summit to be held on June 11-13.

The communique released after the meeting of G7 climate and environment ministers specifically targeted coal-based power generation, recognizing it as “the single biggest cause of global temperature increases.” The ministers indicated a sense of urgency in the communique that global warming cannot be halted if coal-fired power plants, which emit large amounts of CO2, remain in operation.

As chair, Britain led the discussion to compile the communique. The G7 meeting was crucial for Britain, which will preside over the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) this autumn.

Japan, U.S. urged to take action

According to sources, the British government had urged countries to end their use of coal-fired power generation by setting a time frame since before the ministers’ meeting. European countries have already set goals for the abolition of coal-based power generation, with Britain aiming for 2024 at the earliest and France by 2022.

Japan and the United States, which have yet to set such a goal, were urged to do so.

However, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama, who participated in the G7 meeting with Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, resisted this unilateral call. “Each country has different paths to achieve decarbonization,” Kajiyama said at the meeting. “It is important to secure appropriate options according to the circumstances of each country.”

Japan intends to accelerate its decarbonization efforts by suspending or abolishing most of its inefficient coal-fired power plants by fiscal 2030. However, as Japan plans to continue the use of highly efficient coal-fired power plants, which emit less CO2 than conventional plants, coal-fired power is expected to still account for about 20% of the nation’s total energy sources in fiscal 2030, making it difficult to abolish coal-fired power plants early.

Furthermore, the Japanese government started tightening its criteria for supporting coal-fired power generation overseas last year, such as by limiting its support to projects in which partner countries have no choice but to use coal-fired power generation due to national energy security or economic circumstances. The Japanese side explained these measures and circumstances during the meeting.

Given that, the communique’s call for an end to new direct government support was limited to thermal coal power generation for which no measures to curb CO2 emissions have been implemented. The ministers made an exception for government support, such as for fossil fuel energy projects, “in limited circumstances at the discretion of each country.”

“Japan’s position has gained a certain level of understanding,” a government source said.

Biden brings change

Japan appears to be wary of future moves by the U.S. government. The United States previously stated an intention to reduce coal-fired power generation to about 20% of its energy source mix in 2030. Washington has not been as aggressive about the abolition of coal-fired power generation as European countries, and its position has been viewed as close to that of Japan.

However, since Joe Biden took office, the United States has taken an active stance on climate issues.

If the U.S. government shifts its policy to align with Europe on coal-fired power generation, Japan could be notably isolated.

“Ties between the United States and Britain are getting stronger on the issue of climate change,” a senior official of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said. “Criticism of thermal coal power generation could grow further.”