Photo/IllutrationProtesters call for the abolition of coal-fired thermal power and an end to construction of new coal plants in Japan at the COP24 U.N. climate change conference in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Environment Ministry said that in principle it will not sanction construction of new large coal-fired power plants nor boilers to existing facilities in line with Japan's international pledges to tackle global warming.

Moves are spreading worldwide to shun facilities that burn fossil fuels because they spew so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The policy initiative, announced March 28 by Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada, follows criticism that Japan is reluctant to break with such power generation, particularly after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has the final say on whether to approve new coal plant projects, but such decisions are supposed to take into account the environment minister’s opinion.

As a matter of course, the Environment Ministry conducts an environmental impact assessment for new plants with an output capacity of 150,000 kilowatts or more.

It will conduct more rigorous assessments in future and call for the rejection of projects with an emphasis on economic feasibility alone or those lacking measures to cut carbon dioxide emissions when the ministry presents its opinion to the industry ministry.

Data shows that carbon dioxide emissions from the most advanced coal-fired plants amount to twice the volume of thermal plants using natural gas.

The technological means have not yet been invented that would allow operators of coal-fired plants to further reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Given this background, building new coal plants is not feasible.

After nuclear plants went offline nationwide after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, power companies scrambled to draw up projects to construct coal-burning plants to secure stable electricity supplies.

Even today, about 30 projects remain, including facilities that will not be scrutinized for their impact on the environment due to their limited scope of power generation.

Coal plant projects have increasingly been criticized as running counter to a global shift to cleaner energy, especially as the international community intensifies its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under provisions of the Paris Agreement that will be applied from 2020.

A worldwide movement, “Divestment,” is pushing for an end to investment in and loans for coal-fired thermal power plants. Britain and Canada have announced their decision to scrap all their coal plants.

(This article was written by Masatoshi Toda and Tsuyoshi Kawamura.)