Oct 27, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Japan's big coal rethink

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Now that Japan has set a target to become carbon-neutral by 2050, the scale of the challenge is coming into focus — especially when it comes to the country's reliance on coal.

Driving the news: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's Monday speech announcing the target vowed to "fundamentally shift our long-standing policy on coal-fired power generation," Climate Home News reports.

The big picture: Bloomberg has a good breakdown here. It notes that coal provides over a third of Japan's power and became more prominent after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

  • It presents numbers in the International Energy Agency's "sustainable development scenario," which show that Japan's coal-fired generation would need to fall to about 12% of 2019 levels by 2030.
  • Japan will "will need to more than quadruple the pace at which it shuts down coal plants" to get on track with the midcentury target, they report.
  • And Dave Jones of the clean energy think tank Ember tweeted that IEA's even more aggressive global "net zero" by 2050 model suggests that Japan would need a full coal phaseout in a decade.

Where it stands: Suga's pledge is quickly prompting environmentalists to boost pressure on Japan to strengthen its nearer-term policies.

  • Helen Mountford of the World Resources Institute applauded the 2050 commitment, but added, "the country must also set a much bolder emissions reduction target for 2030 than the surprisingly weak plan it put forward earlier this year."
  • And the New York Times points out that Japan is currently still investing in coal-fired power, noting Japan has "planned or is in the process of building 17 new coal-burning power plants."

What we're watching: The specifics of Japan's eventual plans to implement what for now is a vague pledge. The country plans to look to technologies including offshore wind and hydrogen, per several reports.

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