Date
27 March 2017
The 2011 Fukushima disaster made nuclear power an unpopular issue in Japan but it is a major plank of Tokyo's pledge to reduce its reliance on fossil fuel under the Paris climate agreement. Photo: Reuters
The 2011 Fukushima disaster made nuclear power an unpopular issue in Japan but it is a major plank of Tokyo's pledge to reduce its reliance on fossil fuel under the Paris climate agreement. Photo: Reuters

Japan, Korea test climate deal with new coal-powered plants

Japan and South Korea are pressing ahead with plans to open scores of new coal-fired power plants, casting doubt on the strength of their commitment jless than two weeks after signing a historic global climate deal in Paris.

Asia’s two most developed economies and plan to add at least 60 new coal-fired power plants over the next 10 years, Reuters reports.

Energy officials in both countries said those plans are unchanged.

Japan has been criticised for its lack of ambition — its 18-percent target for emissions cuts from 1990 to 2030 is less than half of Europe’s — and questions have been raised about its ability to deliver since the target relies on atomic energy which is very unpopular after the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

“It will not be easy to change the dynamic for domestic coal use, but I think Japan cannot continue ignoring this,” said Kimiko Hirata, international director at Kiko Network, a Japanese NGO that lobbies for measures to combat climate change.

“Eventually Japanese businesses will start recognising the meaning of emissions neutrality and the rapid shift to renewables in other countries and start responding,” said Hirata, who attended the Paris negotiations.

Analysts say Japan and South Korea could reduce carbon emissions by much more than they pledged in Paris.

“The focus in Asia has been more on China and India, so we haven’t seen much attempt to put pressure on Japan and South Korea yet. But I imagine pressure will start to increase,” said senior analyst Georgina Hayden at BMI Research, a unit of ratings agency Fitch Group.

South Korea did scrap plans for four coal-fired power plants as part of its pledge to the Paris summit but 20 new plants are still planned by 2021.

In Japan, 41 new coal-fired power plants are planned over the next decade, and taxes favour imports of coal over cleaner-burning natural gas.

In South Korea, tax on imported coal for power generation was raised in July, but is still only just over a third of the import tax on natural gas.

Coal-fired power plants there currently run at about 80 percent of capacity, compared with 35-40 percent for gas plants, according to calculations based on data from Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), the country’s largest power utility.

When asked if the Paris agreement could lead the Korean government to reduce the planned number of coal-fired plants, an energy ministry spokesman declined to comment, but a ministry official with direct knowledge of the matter said on condition of anonymity that there was no change in the offing.

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