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Japan mulls ending support for exporting coal-fired power plants

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is seen on March 29, 2021, at his office in Tokyo. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan is considering ending state support to build coal-fired power plants abroad in line with international efforts to curb global warming, government sources said Monday.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga could announce the move as early as an April 22-23 virtual summit on climate change hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden, the sources said.

    Coal can be an attractive form of power generation for developing countries because of its low cost and stable supply but produces more carbon dioxide than natural gas, nuclear energy, or renewables such as solar and wind.

    Japan lags among Group of Seven members in phasing out coal-fired power plants domestically and has been criticized for continuing to give state support for exports, including to Vietnam and Indonesia, in the form of low-interest loans by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

    Last July, Japan tightened its criteria for backing such projects, only helping finance them in countries that are taking steps to reduce carbon emissions and those that have no choice but to turn to coal due to affordability.

    Ending state support altogether would be a step further and comes as the Biden administration's focus on tackling climate change builds international momentum for decarbonization.

    Phasing out coal is "the single most important step" to achieving the goal set out in the Paris Agreement of keeping the increase in the average global temperature to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said earlier this month.

    Energy-scarce Japan has increasingly depended on coal after the bulk of its nuclear reactors were taken offline following the 2011 Fukushima crisis, relying on it for about a third of its power generation.

    Suga has said going green will be a key driver of growth for Japan, the world's third-largest economy and fifth-biggest producer of carbon dioxide, vowing to build offshore wind farms and invest in cutting-edge technologies such as hydrogen.

    Having set a goal to make Japan carbon neutral by 2050, he has pledged to unveil an "ambitious" new target for reducing emissions through 2030 ahead of the U.N. conference on climate change to be held in November in Glasgow.

    The topic is expected to be on the agenda when Suga visits Washington in early April to meet with Biden, along with countering China's growing military and economic influence, efforts to denuclearize North Korea and measures against COVID-19.

    Biden's first in-person meeting with a foreign leader since taking office in January will be followed by the virtual summit on climate change, to which 40 world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, have been invited.

    The White House has said the gathering will "galvanize efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis" and underscore the economic benefits of taking action against global warming, including by creating jobs and spurring the development of new technologies.

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