By Naoyuki Yamagishi, Climate & Energy Group Leader, WWF-Japan
Put simply, what Japan should do before 2020 is stop building new coal-fired power plants.
Japanese companies are apparently planning to build 35 new coal-powered plants. That amounts to 15 gigawatts of electricity – so that’s a huge amount of coal power in the pipeline.
Many of those power plants will come online around 2020, which means they could be there until the 2060s, by which time we are supposed to decarbonize our economy completely. We’re worried about the general trend where Japanese companies are thinking that, because we had the Fukushima nuclear accident, and we need cheaper fuels, increasing coal consumption is OK. This trend has to be reversed.
In fact, if you take the increase of coal consumption between 1990 and 2012, and simply convert that increase into carbon emissions, it amounts to 140 million tonnes (CO2 equivalent). That’s the size of Pakistan’s emissions – a whole country’s emissions.
So that’s a huge increase we are already experiencing – and we are now talking about additional emissions in the pipeline because of these new planned coal power plants. In fact, we are talking about adding another 75 million tonnes per year because of them.
Japanese policies put a strong emphasis on energy security – but it’s a distorted sense of energy security. More than 90% of fossil fuels in Japan come from overseas. We know the best source of domestic energy is renewables, but somehow this discussion is distorted, so that the security of supply from overseas is seen as most important and domestic energy is not. (Nuclear, which sources raw materials like uranium from overseas, is considered a ‘quasi-domestic energy resource’.)
Japan has a domestic renewable energy potential that it’s ignoring. For example, a report by the Ministry of Environment shows that Japan has roughly 33 gigawatts (GW) of solar power and 240GW of wind power (including both onshore and off shore). Taken together, this could provide 5,400 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity per year. Japan’s electricity consumption is 1,000TWh per year. (Of course, it may be impossible to use the full potential due to various limitations related to construction sites and grid capacity etc).
THE NEW RENEWABLES PROPORTION OF JAPANESE ELECTRICITY IS JUST 2% – THIS RIDICULOUSLY UNDEREMPLOYED POTENTIAL HAS TO BE TAPPED.
But at the moment the renewables proportion of Japanese electricity is just 2%, if you exclude large hydropower. This ridiculously underemployed potential has to be tapped. And yet, paradoxically the government believes that energy security will be achieved by importing fossil fuels and uranium for nuclear, instead of fostering the renewable energy market.
The explanation is simple: the cheap price of coal does not reflect the true costs – for instance the environmental and human costs. Producing and using coal can cause damage at mining sites, and it increases pollution, as well as being a big factor in global warming and climate change. But Japan’s government is willing to ignore these harms because they think economically-cheap fuels are more important than the costs they incur in other countries.
JAPAN SHOULD STOP BUILDING COAL-FIRED POWER PLANTS – THAT’S THE ONE KEY MESSAGE WE WANT TO CONVEY PRE-2020.
So Japan should stop building coal-fired power plants – that’s the one key message we want to convey pre-2020.
If we can do that, we may be able to change Japan’s currently poor emissions reduction target. At the moment the 2020 greenhouse gas reduction aim is -3.8% below 2005 levels. And there is a trick in this target because, if you convert it into one using 1990 as a base year, it becomes a 3.1% increase. So in fact it’s not even a reduction target at all, but an increase target.
As we head towards the climate agreement at December’s Paris conference, each country is now required to present an emission reduction target beyond 2020. We demand that our government presents a more ambitious target, which constrains the use of coal and taps into Japan’s massive renewables potential.