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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.

Go deeper

Amy Harder, author of Generate
Jan 25, 2021 - Energy & Environment
Column / Harder Line

Biden ushers in historical turn on clean energy and climate change

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Like the curve of Earth we can’t see from the ground, we’re on a curve in history that we won’t fully recognize until decades in the future.

Driving the news: The inauguration of President Biden completes an economic and political consensus that climate change is an urgent threat the world should aggressively address. Whether this consensus produces action remains deeply uncertain.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
32 mins ago - Economy & Business

The digital dollar is now high priority for the Fed

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. is starting to get serious about a central-bank-backed digital currency, with recent comments from top officials laying out the strongest support yet.

Driving the news: On Tuesday Fed chair Jerome Powell told Congress that developing a digital dollar is a "high priority project for us," but added that there are "significant technical and policy questions."

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Coinbase files to go public

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase on Thursday filed to go public via a $1 billion direct listing.

Why it matters: This comes in the midst of a crypto boom, and the listing may further legitimize the industry.