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COP26

US and Japan make climate response 'pillar' of ties as COP26 nears

Kerry meets Suga in first trip to Tokyo as climate envoy, with China visit next

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, right, meets with U.S. presidential envoy for climate John Kerry in Tokyo on Aug. 31.    © Reuters

TOKYO -- The U.S. and Japan elevated climate response as a "pillar" of their bilateral relationship on Wednesday, as John Kerry wrapped up his first meetings in Tokyo as U.S. climate envoy.

Kerry met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who set Japan on a course toward net zero carbon emissions by 2050 when he took office last year.

"Japan and the United States, alarmed by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and other indicators of the growing need for accelerating and deepening emission reductions, are committed to making the 2020s the decisive decade for climate action, and to ensuring their collaborative efforts on the climate crisis a pillar of the Japan-U.S. bilateral partnership," the two governments said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

The former secretary of state proceeds to Tianjin next for his second climate mission to China. In Tokyo, Kerry also met with Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, and Economy Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama.

Kerry, who brokered and signed the Paris climate agreement for the U.S. in 2016, is on a last-minute campaign to boost emissions reduction and financial commitments before the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow in November. The U.K.-hosted summit is at risk of ending in a stalemate as negotiations stall on raising $100 billion annually for climate mitigation and adaptation, as well as implementing guidelines known as the Paris rulebook.

Japan and the U.S. agreed to work together on exporting renewable energy and decarbonization infrastructure as part of their climate partnership, as well as ending new financing for coal power plants in developing countries.

"The decarbonization movement is no longer confined to the fields of climate change and energy, but is widely impacting areas under my purview like economy and trade," Kajiyama said. "Our partnership is taking shape."

The U.S. is currently the world's second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, after China. Japan ranks fifth.

The U.S. is seeking a formal commitment to halt coal projects from China, which has not financed any new coal plants for the first time this year. The Group of 20 failed to reach an agreement on shutting coal plants at their July meeting in Italy, largely due to pushback from coal-dependent countries like China and India.

"The upper leadership of China needs to take steps that are entirely doable," Kerry said in a public forum with Koizumi recorded last week but aired Wednesday. He cited China's rise as the world's top producer of renewable energy. "That just proves China has the ability to take bigger steps to make a difference here," he said.

Japan, meanwhile, counts among the world's top financiers of coal projects alongside China and South Korea, with ongoing plant construction in Vietnam and Indonesia. It joined the Group of Seven countries in June in pledging to end new government financing of coal-fired power.

Divisions remain between Japan and the U.S. on climate tactics. Kerry on Tuesday said Japan should focus on promoting renewable energy overseas instead of supporting new plants powered by liquefied natural gas, a fossil fuel that is less carbon intensive than coal. Japan, on the other hand, prefers a softer approach to encourage climate action from its Indo-Pacific neighbors.

"We should not stick to our negotiating stance," Koizumi said in the public forum. "We need to be in a position to urge other countries and come to a compromise."

The two allies will need to present a united front as climate change dominates upcoming international gatherings, such as the United Nations General Assembly in September and the G-20 summit in October.

A Japanese Environment Ministry official said on Wednesday that the $100 billion climate financing target was unlikely to be reached this year. The financing gap would risk derailing climate commitments from developing countries.

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