The G7 Ministers’ Meeting on Climate, Energy and Environment (hereafter referred to as the Ministers’ Meeting) was held in Sapporo, Japan on April 15 and 16, 2023. The joint communiqué included a commitment to achieving a decarbonized power sector by 2035, as in the previous year1. It also noted that accelerating the transition to “clean energy" is the key to energy security, and that the phase-out of unabated fossil fuels must be accelerated2. The statement also committed to increasing offshore wind power to 150 GW and solar power to more than 1 TW by 20303.
This statement is an indication of the international community’s strong sense of urgency regarding the need to strengthen measures in the face of the accelerating climate crisis. On the other hand, Japan’s backward-looking stance was conspicuous among the G7 members, as it opposed the inclusion of a deadline for phase-out of coal-fired power generation and insisted that gas be maintained as a “bridge fuel” in the shift to clean energy.
With regard to nuclear energy, the Japanese government pushed for the G7 as a whole to promote nuclear power generation, and even tried to include wording that G7 nations “welcome" the discharge of contaminated water from the ALPS process into the ocean4. It is extremely regrettable that such a proposal was made despite the fact that Japan experienced the nuclear disaster first hand.
Strengthening Japan’s Efforts to Meet Global Reduction Targets
The IPCC AR6 (Sixth Assessment Report) synthesis report released on March 20, 2023, emphasizes the need for deep, rapid and immediate greenhouse gas reductions in all sectors within this decade in order to achieve the 1.5°C target5. According to the joint statement, to limit warming to 1.5°C with a 50% probability, 43% of greenhouse gasses must be reduced by 2030, and 60% by 2035 compared to 2019 levels6. The Japanese government’s reduction target is 46% compared to FY2013 levels by 2030, which translates to a 37% reduction from FY2019, again indicating that this is inadequate in light of global reduction targets.
Developed countries need to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2030. However, Japan and other countries reportedly opposed the inclusion of a phase-out date7, and it was not included in the joint statement. The fact that Japan has not changed its policy of continuing to rely on coal-fired thermal power and has continued to be vague about phasing out inefficient coal-fired thermal power once again highlights the fact that Japan is being left behind in the international community. With regard to LNG (liquefied natural gas), a temporary measure that allowed investment into gas as a means to move away from dependence on Russia’s fossil fuels, was added to last year’s joint statement. In the current joint statement, the priority is to shift to clean energy and reduce gas demand, although it states that gas investments could help address potential market shortfalls due to the energy crisis, as long as they are consistent with climate goals8. However, in order to combat climate change and move away from dependence on Russia’s fossil fuels, we should shift from dependence on fossil fuels entirely, instead of continuing to invest in new gas infrastructure.
Furthermore, although the G7 conditionally committed last year to ending new public support for the international fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022, the Japanese government has not fulfilled this commitment and has continued to provide subsidies for new gas projects and projects in other sectors as well. The joint statement turns a blind eye to this fact, and asserts that international subsidies for new projects have already ceased9. According to a study by Oil Change International, the G7 has committed $78 billion USD to fossil fuel projects between 2020 and 2022, and Japan, Italy, and Germany have yet to announce a policy of ending new subsidies and will continue to support new projects beyond 202210.
GX is Deceptive and Delays Real Measures
The promotion of an international “Green Transformation" was clearly stated in the Ministers’ Meeting’s Joint Communique11. On the other hand, the “GX" promoted by the Japanese government is full of “misguided climate change measures" that have uncertain carbon reduction effects and are not consistent with the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement, such as building or extending the operation of nuclear power plants, extending the life of thermal power generation through co-firing of hydrogen, ammonia, and biomass or CCS (carbon capture and storage). Fuel sources and technologies such as hydrogen, ammonia, and CCS, have yet to be proven for practical application and commercialization, and their emission reduction effects and economics are questionable, which will delay real measures from being implemented, and these technologies will not be ready in time for 2035. Although hydrogen and ammonia are mentioned in the joint statement as low-carbon technologies, various conditions are attached to their development and use, including the need to be able to demonstrate emission-reducing effects and consistency with the 1.5°C target12.
The GX-related bills currently under discussion in the Diet are riddled with problems13. Japan and the other G7 nations should focus on improving energy efficiency, shifting to a power system centered on renewable energy, drastically reducing energy demand, eliminating social disparities, and placing importance on human rights.
Promoting Nuclear Power as Clean Energy is Greenwashing
The Japanese government is currently trying to promote nuclear power generation under the guise of “decarbonization," and a Green Transformation (GX) bill is being debated in the Diet.
The Japanese government had hoped to include the importance of nuclear power in the joint statement of the G7 Ministers’ Meeting, but in the end, the wording was changed from “we” to “countries that opt to use nuclear energy”14.
Prior to G7, It was reported that Japan wanted to obtain the G7’s approval for the discharge of contaminated water from the ALPS process into the ocean, and the reuse of contaminated soil from decontamination resulting from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster. Regarding this point, the following statement was included: “We support the IAEA’s independent review to ensure that the discharge of Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) treated water will be conducted consistent with IAEA safety standards and international law.15” However, the reality is that the debris removal process is at a deadlock, with the recent revelation that the concrete supporting the Unit 1 reactor had been stripped away, leaving the steel frame exposed. The decommissioning of the Unit 2 reactor is proving to be a difficult task as well. Regarding ALPS treated water, there are still many issues such as the fact that the total amount of radioactive materials to be discharged into the ocean is not yet known, and many people, including local fishermen, are still in opposition to the discharge of this contaminated water into the ocean. The reuse of contaminated soil is strongly opposed by the local residents of the pilot project, as it could lead to the spread of radioactive materials. It is unfortunate that the above wording was included for the sake of the Japanese government, as it blatantly ignores these facts.
From uranium mining, fuel fabrication, operation, decommissioning, and disposal of nuclear fuel, nuclear power plants pollute the environment with radioactive materials and cause human rights violations at every step. Considering the risks and costs of nuclear power plants, such as technical issues, accidents, radioactive contamination, and nuclear waste that must be stored for tens of thousands of years, nuclear power plants should not be considered a solution to climate change. Japan’s current GX program, a bailout of the declining nuclear industry at government expense, is nothing more than a greenwashing initiative.
The disaster at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is still ongoing. Instead of trying to gain understanding from other G7 nations regarding the discharge of contaminated water into the ocean or to promote the restart of nuclear reactors or the construction of new plants, Japan needs to tell the world of the reality of the nuclear disaster, stop the spread of radioactive materials into the environment, and exercise leadership for a future free of nuclear threats.
Ministry of the Environment, “G7 Ministers’ Meeting on Climate, Energy and Environment in Sapporo”, https://www.env.go.jp/en/earth/g7/2023_sapporo_emm/index.html
1. Paragraph 66
2. Paragraph 49
3. Paragraph 64
4. Asahi Shimbun “Japan wants G-7 backing for plans on Fukushima water, soil”, 22nd February 2023, https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14845638
5. IPCC, Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, March 20, 2023, https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6syr/pdf/IPCC_AR6_SYR_SPM.pdf
6. Paragraph 44
7. Mainichi Shimbun, “Japan’s Draft Joint Statement Rebuffed by Other G7 Members: No Timetable for Phase-Out of Coal-Fired Power Generation”, March 14, 2023 (Japanese only), https://mainichi.jp/articles/20230314/k00/00m/030/202000c
8. Paragraph 69
9. Paragraph 74
10. Oil Change International, “Briefing:G7 countries can shift billions into clean energy if they strengthen their commitment to end international fossil finance”, April 2023.
11. Paragraph 2
12. Paragraph 67
13. FoE Japan, “Five Reasons Why the GX Promotion Bill Should Not Pass” (Japanese only), FoE Japan, “Problems with the GX Decarbonizing Power Sources Bill” (Japanese only)
14. Paragraph 70
15. Paragraph 71