IPCC report signals the need to hold Japan’s Abe to his word on climate

As Japanese financial institutions begin inching away from coal funding and citizens protest one of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels, will the prime minister of the world’s fifth biggest emitter heed the warning of the recent IPCC report? 350.org’s Shin Furuno explains why it’s more critical than ever to hold the country’s leader to account.

The famed Shibuya crossing
The bright lights of Tokyo are powered are powered by energy from coal. Image: Richard Schneider, CC BY-NC 2.0

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe says he’s serious about climate. In wake of the UN’s alarming report on climate change and global warming, he should be held to task.

The latest report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms the need for an immediate transition away from fossil fuels and toward a zero-carbon society. Steps toward a 100 per cent renewable energy society are our only chance to cap global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius, significantly reducing the negative impact on our planet compared to the higher warming currently projected with existing emissions reduction targets.

The IPCC report sounds the alarm on our situation and calls for governments to phase out all fossil fuel energy sources, with an emphasis on coal as the biggest source of carbon in the atmosphere. 

All carbon reduction scenarios considered by the IPCC consistent with the goal of stopping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius call for a steep decline in coal power, with the most achievable scenario requiring a 78 per cent reduction in coal usage by 2030, and a 97 per cent reduction by 2050.

This is bad news for Japan, where plans are underway for 35 new domestic coal-fired power plants. Japan has not only has the second largest energy consumption levels next to China in the region, but is also alone among the G7 countries in increasing coal capacity. The country is also actively promoting exports of coal power technology to Southeast Asian countries, where energy access is a key developmental issue.

The Japanese financial industry is an enabler of Japan’s coal dependency. Research we have conducted at 350.org shows Japanese financial institutions increased loans and underwriting services to companies engaged in domestic coal development after the 2015 signing of the Paris Climate Accord, contrary to the Japanese government’s own commitments under that agreement. We have seen cracks emerging—Japanese financial institutions starting with health insurance companies have started to set out policies restricting finance for new coal-fired power.

The IPCC report shows that 1.5 degrees Celsius is possible, but we must not miss this window of opportunity to act.

Civil society resistance shows us a path forward. In Kobe, a group of concerned citizens is working to stop the construction of two large scale coal power plants in their city. Their story is included in the People’s Dossier on 1.5°C, which touches upon the recent lawsuit the group has initiated against Kobe Steel, the primary company pushing forward this project.

Unless the Japanese government changes direction in its energy policy, it should anticipate more international criticism about its dependency on coal and emphasis on exporting coal technology.

Kobe is not alone in the resistance. A small but growing movement is encouraging individuals and investors to move their money from banks that fund coal power plant construction, and there is increasing awareness among the Japanese people about the social impacts of investments made on their behalf through insurance companies and pension funds.

This is all part of a growing trans-national movement of communities from Thailand and the Philippines mobilising to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure and calling for a radical change in our energy systems and economies.

To be sure, the movement faces many challenges. Recently, the Liberal Democratic Party re-elected Abe to serve yet another tenure, which positions him as prime minister until 2021. Abe deserves plenty of criticism for Japan’s dismal progress on emissions reductions following the Paris Climate Accord, but he seems keen to make climate change a big item on his agenda. Indeed, he recently penned an opinion piece in the Financial Times on the subject, in which he noted the need to “reduce the use of fossil fuels.”

However, unless the Japanese government changes direction in its energy policy, it should anticipate more international criticism about its dependency on coal and emphasis on exporting coal technology.

In advance of Japan hosting next year’s G20 Summit, the country should show climate leadership by ruling out the construction and financing of any new coal fired power plants and ramping up its uptake of renewable energy.

The G20 Summit provides an opening for the Japanese people, and fellow industrialised democracies, to hold Abe to his word on the climate and push for deeper commitments to decarbonisation to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Shin Furuno is Japan Divestment Campaigner for 350.org Japan.This piece was written for Eco-Business.

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