A highly symbolic protest is being organized in Kobe against Tokyo’s outrageous turn back to coal. Here, an already-massive coal-fired power plant is set to expand and double in size. It is one of 30 such plants that Japan plans to build after putting the breaks on nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster.
The fight by the local residents against the project has already begun, but the government seems to have no intention of changing course. As Takeshi Shimamura of Kobe University explained in an interview to the Nikkei Asia Review—which recently featured the Japanese “energy problem” on its cover, together with a special report—“coal goes directly against the global trend because it is the worst fuel, based on its volume of carbon dioxide emission.”
As the article notes, Japan is the only country in the G-7 which is still planning new coal-fired power plants. Furthermore, Japan hasn’t only developed a renewed passion for “internal” coal (that is, burned inside the country): “Through its banks and international development agencies, Japan is funding a wave of huge coal-fired power plants from Vietnam to Indonesia.”
In the past three years, the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation has announced plans to provide up to $5.2 billion in funding for six projects tied to coal. According to the International Energy Agency, Asia was responsible for two-thirds of the global 1.4 percent growth in CO2 emissions in 2017, precisely on account of the “increasing demand” for fossil fuels. The problem, however, is certainly not limited to Japan, although the country represents an important bellwether in terms of energy choices.
Indeed, you might have heard about China. But the main issue isn’t just that Asia, home to over half the world’s population, burns three-quarters of the world’s coal consumption. Even more worryingly, as The New York Times recently reported, Asia “accounts for more than three-fourths of coal plants that are either under construction or in the planning stages.” According to environmentalist groups, the most important threat to the goals of the Paris Agreement is coming from Asia.
The main culprits are Indonesia, Vietnam and, the big giant, China: Beijing consumes half of the world’s coal. More than 4.3 million Chinese are employed in the country’s coal mines. According to an analysis by CoalSwarm, in spite of the Paris Agreement, new coal plans continue to be built: “many of the restrictions only delayed new projects rather than stopping them.” Furthermore, one cannot look at China without taking into account their New Silk Road: the new markets are already known, from Kenya to Pakistan, and Chinese companies are building coal plants in at least 17 foreign countries.