Photo/Illutration Protesters gather in front of the building housing the Jakarta base of Mitsubishi Corp. to oppose the company’s support for a coal-fired thermal power plant. (Rizki Akbar)

With the global climate crisis growing graver, Japan must quickly withdraw from coal-fired power generation that emits high volumes of carbon dioxide.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will soon compile a new national strategy on infrastructure exports. His administration must closely watch the global current of decarbonization and decide on terminating export support.

Coal emits twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas, even if burned in a state-of-the-art furnace with high combustion efficiency.

With the Paris Agreement on climate change aiming for virtually zero CO2 emissions by early in the latter half of this century, the global move toward decarbonization is gaining momentum, mainly in European nations where the governments are collaborating with private enterprises.

Japan, however, is the only Group of Seven member that is still exporting coal-fired power plants to developing nations and providing government funding for exports of such plants.

Will the government reaffirm and maintain the status quo? Or will it switch course under the new strategy?

Against this backdrop, two contrasting reports were released in succession last month.

One came from a panel of experts appointed by the Environment Ministry.

The experts indicated that businesses and financial institutions around the world have started investing in non-coal projects, now that coal has become less competitive cost-wise than sustainable energy. The panel also cited the International Energy Agency (IEA) as predicting that most of the world’s power sources will become coal-free around the middle of this century.

Pointing out these developments, the report warned that Japan was falling behind the times because of its obsession with coal, and that Japan would benefit from changing its policy to aiding trading partners that are trying to decarbonize.

The thrust of the panel’s argument was that international cooperation must be bolstered to avert the global climate crisis.

The other report was compiled by a panel of experts appointed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry that oversees power plant exports.

Asserting that “demand for coal-fired power plants is still solid” and that “high hopes are pinned on Japanese technology,” the report essentially endorsed the continuation of plant exports. And based on that premise, the report recommended that Japan limit its aid only to nations that have no choice but to rely on coal for their energy needs.

However, what needs to be borne in mind is that climate change is a global crisis that also requires developing nations to strive to reduce their CO2 emissions, although they usually have no long-term strategy for fighting global warming.

And should any such nation turn to Japan for assistance, the responsible thing for Japan to do, as a developed nation, would be to urge them to increase their reliance on renewable energy rather than stick to coal that will continue to emit CO2 for decades to come.

Assisting another country in decarbonization will benefit Japan as well.

Japan is already behind in switching to renewable energy, and it is a non-presence among global solar and wind power enterprises.

But through international cooperation, Japan can build up and improve its technology, and eventually become a presence in non-coal sectors. At the same time, Japan should waste no time to review its domestic energy industry and its current backlog of many new coal-fired power plant construction projects.

The responsibility of envisioning such a scenario is that of none other than the government.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 3