COALLUSION: The US and Japan’s Global Pro-Pollution Agenda

In US Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s opening address at the CERAweek conference, he tried to garner interest for a global pro-fossil fuel alliance. This misguided initiative, supported wholeheartedly by Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, is yet another way Perry is trying to bail out the coal companies.

In US Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s opening address at the CERAweek conference, he tried to garner interest for a global pro-fossil fuel alliance. This misguided initiative, supported wholeheartedly by Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, is yet another way Perry is trying to bail out the coal companies. How does Japan fit into this agenda? When President Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met in November 2017, they inked an agreement to promote the construction of more highly polluting coal plants in many developing countries. What’s their plan? As clearly laid out in their joint agreement, one of the main goals is to form an alliance and build more coal plants in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South Asia.

Colluding on Coal

Many of the countries in these regions are already highly vulnerable to climate impacts, such as stronger storms, flooding, or prolonged droughts depending on the location. So, it’s rather absurd that two of the world’s most advanced industrial economies think promoting coal plants is an act of benevolence towards developing nations. To be blunter, this alliance between Abe and Trump is an act of “coal-lusion” that tries to pawn off Japan’s coal equipment and US excess coal onto vulnerable communities abroad.

Coal plants account for the largest share of global carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion. They cause countless health and environmental impacts from increasing rates of cardiovascular diseases and cancers to damaging the local water supply and fisheries. Despite these facts, Japan and the United States continue to promote coal projects abroad.

A Fool’s Errand

Rick Perry has gotten unnecessarily dramatic with his pro-fossil declarations this week, calling it “immoral” to shift away from fossil fuels and claiming that it’s a “fool’s errand” to shift away from fossil fuels by 2030 – comparing it to going back to “living like we were living in the mid-1800s.” (For the record, the United Kingdom’s carbon emissions in 2017 have fallen to the same level as they were in 1890, thanks to a 19 percent drop in coal use.) So it looks like the only person on a fool’s errand is actually Secretary Perry, as he tries to fight a global low-carbon transition on behalf of fossil fuel companies.

Perry's comments also ignore the International Energy Agency's assessment that renewable energy will be the lowest cost way to provide electricity access around the world. Not to mention he ignores the reality in the United States as well. In certain areas of the United States, building new solar and wind can be cheaper than running existing coal plants. Almost two-thirds of all new US electricity generation added between now and 2050 is expected to come from wind and solar energy. And the US EIA estimates that by 2034, renewables will be the second-largest source of power (up from No. 4 today)—surpassing coal and nuclear.

Japan’s Coal Dilemma

And as for Japan, we’ve documented in our recent Power Shift report the series of upcoming controversial coal projects Japan is financing abroad. Fortunately, the industry-led push to profit from more coal plants abroad is finally being recognized as the sham that it is. Japan’s Foreign Ministry recently received recommendations from its own advisory panel criticizing Japan’s promotion of coal:

Japan is falling behind other leading countries in expansion of renewables, and [its] policies for promoting coal-fired power, whose CO2 emissions are about twice as large as that of natural gas-fired power, has been severely criticized by the international community.

Furthermore, the panel recommended an immediate end to public financing for coal projects abroad, which directly contradicts the basis of the US-Japan agreement’s claim that a pro-fossil agenda is needed:

The argument that nuclear and coal-fired power, as baseload power sources, are necessary to ensure stable power supply is already outdated. The countries with a matured electricity market have shifted to a new system with a maximum use of renewable energy available at low marginal cost, and then together with flexible electric power sources including natural gas-fired power for the rest of electricity demand.

After the Paris Agreement came into effect, Japan’s … government-led support for exporting coal-fired power plants to developing countries have come to be discussed more frequently at international conferences….

Even the most advanced coal-fired power cannot meet the 2 degrees target of the Paris Agreement. … Japan should aim for the immediate end to the public assistance for the export of coal-fired power.

A Heater for the Summer, a Fan for the Winter (夏炉冬扇)

Despite the bluster from the Trump Administration about a pro-coal alliance and the duplicitous willingness of the Abe government to promote its coal industry abroad, the world does not have room for more coal plants. Coal plants cause more emissions, worsening climate change. What the world’s most vulnerable countries are demanding is renewable energy, not coal. Unfortunately, the US-Japan pro-coal alliance to build more coal plants abroad is basically like offering a heater in the middle of a hot summer, or trying to lend a fan in the middle of winter (“夏炉冬扇”—as the saying goes).

Dozens of other nations are already moving beyond coal. It’s time for the US and Japan to admit that their pro-fossil agenda has less to do with “development” for poorer nations, and is mostly self-serving. Rather than colluding and promoting coal, both nations should be expanding the public finance they are providing for wind and solar projects abroad.

To see a full list of coal and renewable energy projects abroad supported by Japan and the United States, see the database from our latest report, Power Shift: Shifting G20 International Public Finance from Coal to Renewables