President Trump (deservedly) drew the world’s ire when he decided to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord that the start of this month. But whatever the motivations behind that decision, it has given us an opportunity to more closely scrutinize an agreement that had faded into the back pages after its much-heralded signing in December 2015. It won’t surprise regular readers that, under closer examination, that voluntary deal, entirely devoid of any whiff of an enforcement mechanism, is looking exactly as flimsy as we thought it would be. The latest proof of that comes to us courtesy of Japan, whose post-Fukushima, nuclear-less national energy mix is certain to emit more than Tokyo’s self-imposed Paris targets:
Even as it champions the Paris climate agreement, Japan – the world’s fifth-biggest carbon emitter – continues its massive reliance on coal and natural gas, putting it out of step with the rest of the Group of Seven bloc and even South Korea. Coal is seen by Japan’s powerful industry ministry as an important part of the country’s energy mix after the closure of nuclear reactors in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Coal now accounts for about 31 percent of Japan’s power generation mix. Over the next decade, companies plan to build 41 new coal-fired power stations, according to data from government and companies.
Under the Paris deal, Japan has pledged to trim its carbon emissions by 26 percent in 2030 from 2013 levels. The ministry estimates that Japan’s emissions could exceed its 2030 target by 70 million tonnes if all the coal power plants were built.
We are shocked—shocked!—that Japan isn’t on track to meet its voluntary emissions reduction goals. This makes sense, though, when you consider that the country is desperate to replace its massive fleet of (zero emissions) nuclear reactors with fossil fuel-fired power plants. That transition was always going to entail an increase in emissions.
The only reason this is a story, though, is because Japan put forth an unrealistic target for itself, one that it’s now in all likelihood not going to meet. It did this while talking publicly about the importance of global emissions reductions, because Tokyo’s policymakers—like those found in the capitals of countries around the world—know that there’s no cost to talking a big game on climate. Paris can’t punish Japan for this, so what we’re seeing is simply a country playing the hand it was dealt as best it could.
Meanwhile, the United States is heading out of the Paris agreement while simultaneously reducing its greenhouse gas emissions on the back of surging shale gas production. This is the irony wrapped in all the hypocrisies of global climate mitigation efforts: the one major developed country most hostile to the Paris deal is also the one furthest along the road towards meeting its goals.