Cool Japan – run by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry – is all about promoting the nation’s cutting edge art and culture abroad.
But now, hot is the new cool, because Japan is building coal and it’s time for Coal Japan.
At the last G7 in 2015, members agreed that the decarbonisation of the global economy should be completed by the end of this century: requiring deep cuts in CO2 emissions and big changes in how we power our planet.
Meaning G7 leaders agreed there is no future for coal in a world that is acting to avoid dangerous climate change.
So why is Japan planning nearly 50 new coal-fired power stations AND spending tax-payer money to fund even more in the region?
Shinzo san, is it Coal Japan or Cool Japan? Because you can’t be both.
The G7 is moving away from coal. The USA is rapidly retiring old coal plants. Over 200 have been shut in the last five years. And more are shutting every week.
So is the world. In China, coal use fell 3.7% in 2015 compared to 2014 levels, according to a report from China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The drop follows a 2.9% decrease in 2014. China is cleaning up.
In fact, coal lost the race to renewables back in 2013, when the world added 143 gigawatts of renewable electricity capacity, compared with 141 gigawatts in new plants that burn fossil fuels. According to Bloomberg, ‘the question is no longer if the world will transition to cleaner energy, but how long it will take.’
Japan is the odd one out as only country in the G7 building new coal-fired power stations, despite promising the rest of the world to do the opposite. And despite having to import all its coal from abroad, mainly from Australia and Indonesia. Not cool.
Coal is climate change and climate change is catastrophe. Japan would be one of the world’s most affected countries by sea-level rise, with 7.5 million people – 30 percent of Tokyo’s population – affected by the sea level rise under the 4 C scenario. A rise by 2 C would leave 4.2 million people’s homes underwater.
In Osaka, 6.2 million people — a staggering 38 percent of its population — would be affected under the 4 C rise.
As for clean coal? Even new High Efficiency Low Emissions (HELE) coal is incompatible with limiting temperature rises to 2C (a rise no longer considered ‘safe’).
Coal-fired power plants are not clean, pumping out a large amount of particulate matter (PM2.5) that is now recognized as a severe health risk. Air pollution from coal currently causes an estimated 800,000 premature deaths annually, and planned coal plants would increase such deaths by 130,000 people per year.
The future outlook for the coal market is bleak, according to financial experts such as Goldman Sachs who said the decline of coal is irreversible.
Sumitomo bought half of an Australian coal mine in for $430 million in 2011, then sold it for $1 in 2015. Whoops.
Not surprising, since, according to the Indian Energy Minister, solar is now cheaper than coal.
But Japan doesn’t seem to have noticed. In fact Japan is also the leading financier of coal overseas. From 2007 to 2014, Japan provided over US$20 billion in coal financing abroad. While the US, the UK, France and other countries have placed limitations on its financing of coal projects abroad, Japan remains the world’s number one supporter of overseas coal.
But Japan has a choice. Stay cool, invest in renewable energy, improve energy security and keep it’s head above water. Or become a dirty coal country relying on expensive, out-dated technology.
Now’s the time to decide.