Why Japan's Climate Action Deserves a Failing Grade

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We have given a "climate grade" to key countries for their climate actions and new targets in the lead-in to the Paris climate agreement. Nobody is receiving top marks - an "A+" - but some countries are receiving failing grades. We gave Japan a failing grade - a "D" - for its climate actions because it is the biggest financer of overseas coal projects, its climate target is too weak, and it is a bit fuzzy on some of its methodologies.

Here are more details on why we gave Japan a failing grade for its climate action.

Reason #1: Japan is the largest provider of public finance for overseas coal projects

Japan had the largest amount of coal financing of any country by far, more than double any other OECD country's financing, with over $20 billion of financing from 2007 to 2014, according to data from NRDC, Oil Change International and WWF (see figure).

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Many of the OECD countries have made recent commitments to shift away from public financing of international coal power plants. The US has implemented a policy to significantly limit coal financing using its export-credit agency and through its support of the international development banks. South Korea just announced with the U.S. that it would support an agreement in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to significantly limit coal financing through export credit agencies. China agreed with the U.S. to "strengthen green and low-carbon policies and regulations with a view to strictly controlling public investment flowing into projects with high pollution and carbon emissions".

Japan has been opposing efforts in the OECD to phase-out public financing of overseas coal projects. Japan is extremely isolated as it goes into the next round of the OECD development assistance committee meeting where OECD countries are trying to agree on a set of parameters to significantly constrain the use of public resources to support overseas coal projects.

For this reason Japan received a ranking of very poor for "shows responsibility" and poor for "plays well with others" in our climate grades.

Reason #2: New climate target isn't on trajectory for deep cuts

Japan submitted its planned post-2020 climate target for the Paris agreement earlier this year. It includes an emissions reduction target of 26 percent below 2013 emission levels by 2030, equivalent to 18% below 1990 levels by 2030. Once accounting of land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) accounting credits that Japan proposes this target is potentially even weaker, according to Climate Action Tracker. Climate Action Tracker rated the new Japanese target as "inadequate" - its lowest ranking. In addition, this new target is off trajectory for the 80 percent cut by 2050 that the Japanese agreed as a part of the Group of Eight agreement in 2009 (see figure).

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For this reason Japan received a poor ranking in "makes an effort" in our climate grades.

Reason #3: Fuzzy on methodologies for offsets, forestry accounting, and climate finance

Japan has created its own system for international offsets - called the Japanese Crediting Mechanism (JCM) - which establishes their own rules for how they will ensure that these emissions reduction projects will ensure that they lead to real, verifiable, and permanent emissions reductions. There have been serious questions raised about the credibility of this system including that it supports coal plants overseas. Japan is also proposing to get credit for its land-use change and forestry using rules it has used under the Kyoto Protocol. Those rules don't completely match what the atmosphere sees so Japan's proposed approach could lead to smaller emissions reductions in the real world. In addition, Japan has been counting its overseas coal power plant financing towards its climate goal. So not only are they trying to invest more in coal projects overseas, but the Government of Japan is also trying to count that towards their climate finance commitments. When the OECD estimated climate finance in a recent report they explicitly called this disconnect out and didn't count Japan's coal financing in its totals.

For these reasons Japan received a "needs improvement" in "neat and accurate" and "poor" in plays well with others in our climate grades.

Japan has a chance to turn this failing grade into a solid passing grade. The criteria are simple: stop using scarce public financing to support overseas coal projects, strengthen their target to put them on a stronger trajectory to cut emissions at least 80 percent by 2050 levels, and stop using fuzzy rules that lead to increased emissions.

To move from climate laggard to climate champ it will require hard work, studying up on what it takes to pass the test, and then really doing their homework by significantly changing their policies.