The fourth day of negotiations on climate talks in Bonn, Germany, have got underway with protesters chanting "Sekitan, Yamato, stop coal finance," criticizing Japan as the world's largest provider of coal finance.
The Bonn talks are the prelude to negotiate the final details of an agreement before the major United Nations-sponsored climate conference in Paris in December, considered to be the most significant such talks since similar talks fell apart in Copenhagen half a decade ago. The Paris conclave, under the unwieldy name the Conference of Parties, is a yearly meeting of countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which has been working for two decades to attempt to solve the climate crisis.
Observers say the Paris talks will be crucial to hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, a goal many believe is both unachievable and not ambitious enough. The world has already warmed by 0.8C. Countries have already submitted their carbon mitigation commitments through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions process. Taken together, however, all countries’ commitments are still not enough to reach the sub-2C target.
Japan is under fire from environmentalists because between 2007 and 2014, the country’s export credit agencies provided US$17 billion of public finance for coal projects around the world, according to the critics.
"Japan is already notorious for its position in coal finance. The data shows that Japan is the biggest contributor, and those exported coal power plants are not clean or efficient," said Kimiko Hirata, International Director of Kiko Network, an umbrella of Japanese NGOs involved in slowing climate change.
Coal is the biggest source of manmade carbon in the atmosphere. In order to ensure that global warming be kept below 2C from pre-industrial levels, 80 percent of the world's coal reserves must be left in the ground. Talks of a long-term goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 have been ongoing at the climate negotiations. Carbon neutrality is deemed as a crucial solution to the climate crisis.
However, Japan has argued that building coal power plants can help climate finance contributions. Climate finance is meant to help poor countries reduce emissions or adapt to the impacts of a changing climate.
"There's no way to claim it's a climate solution. It's time to shift away from coal," Hirata added.
Many countries such as Ethiopia have committed to a shift from dirty energy to renewable energy. Ethiopia, a least developed country which only contributes 0.3 percent of global emissions and with 76 percent of its population with no access to electricity, has committed to 64 percent emissions reduction. Japan, on the other hand, is the world's fifth biggest emitter of carbon and has only committed to a 26 percent reduction target.
Japan's target is inadequate according to Climate Action Tracker, another umbrella group of NGOs seeking to limit climate change.
"If all countries adopted this level of ambition, global warming would likely exceed 3-4C in the 21st century," the organization said in their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) analysis. The INDC is a set of mitigation commitments and adaptation plans of all countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
"Japan is getting failing grades for its climate action. Its continued investment of scarce public resources in overseas coal projects is a major reason it is viewed as a climate laggard," said Jake Schmidt, International Program Director of Natural Resources Defense Council.
Leaders including those in the US, France, and the UK have already made commitments to end or strictly limit coal finance. Most recently, China has also committed to taking steps to strictly control its public support for coal plants both locally and overseas.
"This funding needs to end if Japan wants to be a credible part of the Paris agreement," Schmidt added.
Japan also last June blocked negotiations at the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on talks on phasing out a form of coal subsidies last June. OECD promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.
In 2014, there were reports that Japan is boosting financial support for coal-fired power plants built overseas. The Wall Street Journal reported that according to Takafumi Kakudo, coal director of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, "by providing public loans and insurance for new coal technologies, developed nations can prevent emerging countries from building cheaper, dirtier and more inefficient facilities." They have reiterated this stand at the OECD meeting last June.
However, environmental groups such as WWF dispute this claim by Japan saying that beneficiaries of OECD are not energy poor nations but dirty industry. The protesters at the conference called Japan's actions as "an embarrassment to the people of Japan who want to end coal finance" and promise to continue putting pressure on the Japanese government until Japan agrees to meaningful and strict limits on coal finance.
Renee Juliene Karunungan is the Communications Director and climate campaigner of Dakila. Dakila is an organization that has been working on climate justice since 2009. She is also a climate tracker for Adopt A Negotiator.