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Climate Change

G-7 seeks end of coal power, adding pressure on Japan and US

Chair UK accelerates effort for blocwide commitment

Japan relies on coal for 32% of its electricity mix, more than any other country in the Group of Seven.   © Reuters

LONDON -- Group of Seven nations agreed to stop financing international coal power projects by the end of this year at their first dedicated climate ministerial meeting, ramping up pressure on Japan and the U.S. to make a concrete commitment on abandoning the carbon-intensive energy source.

The two-day meeting of leading industrial nations, which ran through Friday, was held online. Attendees included Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi and Hiroshi Kajiyama, the minister of economy, trade and industry, as well as U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.

"We stress that international investments in unabated coal must stop now and commit to take concrete steps towards an absolute end to new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021," the ministers said in a joint statement.

Financing for projects that include emission-curbing measures, such as carbon-capture and storage technology, may still be permitted.

The ministers also affirmed the importance of limiting global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. The 2015 Paris climate accord aimed to keep the increase in global temperatures to well below 2 C, or around 1.5 C.

As host to the G-7 this year, the U.K. has taken a tough stance against coal in hopes of coordinating a blocwide commitment to abandon the energy source, which has a heavy carbon footprint compared with other hydrocarbons like natural gas. It had urged other member countries to signal their efforts on the issue during preparations for the meeting.

"The U.K. is leading the world in tackling climate change and phasing out coal, having gone over 5,000 hours without using coal for electricity last year," a British government spokesperson told Nikkei prior to the meeting. Five thousand hours is just over 208 days.

Still, the ministers did not set any blocwide target dates for ending the use of coal power. The BBC reported that Japan argued at the meeting against strong restrictions against coal, and that the U.K. hopes it will ease its stance by the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in Glasgow in November.

Coal is responsible for less than 2% of electricity generated in the U.K., down from 40% in 2012. The country plans to shut down all coal power plants by 2024, and is working to expand the share of renewables instead.

Japanese METI chief Hiroshi Kajiyama speaks with climate and environmental ministers from the Group of Seven online, as part of a two-day meeting through Friday. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is in charge of Japan's energy policy. (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry)

France plans to phase coal power out completely by next year, while Italy and Germany aim to do so by 2025 and 2038, respectively.

Meanwhile, Japan and the U.S. have set no specific target date for exiting coal so far.

The Biden administration aims for a 50% to 52% reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. Meeting this goal will require the country to essentially stop using coal, which makes up 19% of its electricity mix. But the administration is reluctant to make a hard commitment, given the likely political pushback from regions that economically depend on the fuel.

While Japan plans to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, coal still makes up 32% of Japan's electricity mix, the highest percentage across the G-7. The country's path toward reducing the figure is murky, with most of its nuclear reactors still idle after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and with fewer viable sites for wind and solar farms than Europe.

The Japanese government is hesitant to rule out coal completely under the current circumstances, given its low cost and stable supply. "We need to pursue the best decision for each country that reflect its unique circumstances on a path [to net-zero emissions] and its energy mix," Kajiyama said at the climate meeting Thursday.

Additional reporting by Taisei Hoyama in Washington and Tomohiro Ebuchi in Tokyo

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