Photo/Illutration A coal-fired thermal power plant in Nagasaki Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Japan once again found itself the odd man out in preliminary discussions among Group of Seven nations on energy issues linked to climate change.

A draft of a joint statement drawn up at a meeting in Germany of ministers handling environmental and energy issues that is to be released in late May calls for the elimination of domestic coal-fired thermal power plants by 2030 as a step to curtail global warming.

“It will be close to impossible for Japan to agree to that, especially since its energy security environment has become much more severe,” said a high-ranking official of the economy ministry, alluding to a recent surge in prices of petroleum and natural gas following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

German officials presented the draft at a preparatory meeting earlier this month in Berlin that called for gradually shutting down coal-fired thermal plants by 2030, according to government sources.

Coal-fired thermal plants accounted for around 31 percent of total electricity generated in Japan in fiscal 2020. Japan’s dependence on coal-fired plants stems from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster that destroyed a widely held belief that nuclear power is 100 percent safe. At the same time, Japan has been slow to embrace renewable energy sources.

Coal-fired plants are a primary source of carbon dioxide emissions, viewed by green movements as an affront in the face of pledges by many nations, including Japan, to bring down their carbon footprint to zero by 2050.

Under Japan’s basic energy plan approved in 2021, coal-fired plants will still account for 19 percent of all electricity generated in Japan in fiscal 2030.

International organizations have also pushed to phase out coal-fired plants as a matter of urgency to deal with global warming.

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a report that greenhouse gas emissions must be lowered before 2025 if the rise in the average global temperature since before the Industrial Revolution is to be kept at 1.5 degrees.

The International Energy Agency last year also released its own scenario for carbon-free energy generation in 2050 that called on advanced nations to gradually shut down coal-fired plants not equipped with technology to slash carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

The wording of the joint statement issued last year by a G-7 meeting of environment and energy ministers toned down calls for eliminating all coal-fired plants domestically by 2030, due mainly to opposition by Japan.

European nations remain committed to shutting down all their coal-fired plants by 2030, despite energy shortages triggered by the Ukraine crisis.

The final wording of the joint statement for this year remains under wraps.

(This article was written by Shinichi Sekine and Junichiro Nagasaki.)