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Japan and Germany lag on coal switch-off

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US leads on the international phasing out of fossil fuels to stop climate change

Japan and Germany are lagging behind other countries with the international phasing out of coal power plants, a report published today has revealed.

Members of the G7 agreed earlier this year agreed to fully phase out the use of fossil fuels this century and to cut greenhouse gases by 40 to 70% by 2050. Existing emissions regulations mean many coal power stations are being switched off.

According to the report, published today by environmental think-tank EG3 at the UN's Bonn Climate Change talks, some 63GW of planned coal power plants has been cancelled across the G7 since 2010. A further 124GW of coal capacity has either already been retired or is set to come-off by 2020.

The US is reducing its use of coal the most, followed by France, the UK, Canada and Italy. However Japan is ranked last out of the group of countries, with over 27GW of additional coal power capacity planned.

Kimiko Hirata, international director from Japanese environmental NGO the Kiko Network, said: “Japan is the only G7 country that is planning a huge coal expansion, through the development of 48 new coal plants. Japan is clearly lagging behind the other G7 countries. It should stop arguing that so-called ‘clean coal’ is a solution.

“Everyone knows that the coal industry imperils the planet. Recognizing global momentum, Japan should shift away from its current path, not only for the sake of a climate-safe world, but also to avoid international isolation and to foster a green economy in Japan.”

Germany, in sixth place, is also struggling to act on clean coal, says the report, with a final set of new coal plants having entered operation since 2010. Government plans to reduce coal use were opposed by utilities, resulting in a change of policy. It entails payments to utilities to create a reserve of 2.7GW of lignite plants, which would then be retired by 2020. Internationally, Germany is also still backing unabated coal plants.

Sabrina Schulz, head of E3G Berlin, said: “The political debate on a phase out of coal has started in Germany. But the new proposed measures still require approval from the EU Commission and it is not clear whether they will go through.

“Germany also lacks a clear plan for the period after 2020. Utilities and investors need certainty on this. The affected regions and workforce need time and support to adjust and Germany’s climate policy needs its credibility back.”

Although the USA is reducing its existing coal use, it has the largest installed capacity of coal power plants amongst the G7 countries – some 288GW of capacity – more than double the size of all the other G7 countries combined. Recent coal plant retirement announcements in the US amount to more than 84GW by 2020.

Chris Littlecott, programme leader at E3G, said: “Japan finds itself isolated in clinging to coal, while its G7 peers are all moving towards a phase out. There is a clear structural shift away from coal underway across the G7, with the dominant trend being the cancellation of proposed projects and the retirement of existing coal power plants.

“The UK, Canada and Italy all have a great opportunity to accelerate the closure of existing coal capacity over the coming years. The UK’s ageing coal plants are ripe for retirement. Alberta is looking to phase out coal and follow in Ontario’s footsteps. In Italy, the utility Enel has recognised its coal plants will need to be offline before 2030. By working together, these G7 countries can drive political momentum for the broader transition away from coal.”

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