Press Release

Tougher policy measures needed to meet Japan’s climate targets – IGES analysis

Issued by IGES Headquarters
18 October 2016

Hayama, Japan (18 October 2016) – New analysis from the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies finds that current plans to build new, and retrofit old, fossil fuel power plants in Japan would exceed CO2 emission estimates, derailing efforts to meet the country’s climate targets unless they operate at a lower capacity.

According to a new issue brief by IGES’s Climate and Energy Area, if all fossil fuel power plants currently planned for construction and retrofitting in Japan are put into operation by 2030, coal-fired power plants will need to operate at a 56% capacity factor – or even partially terminate plans for constructing new plants – in order to satisfy the emission targets Japan has set under the Paris Agreement.

“If we look at these figures, they are significantly lower than the 70% capacity factor assumed under the long-term energy outlook set by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry,” said Kentaro Tamura, Principal Policy Researcher at IGES and one of the paper's authors.

“This essentially means that, if all newly constructed coal-fired power plants in Japan are operated at a high capacity factor as 'base load' power plants, these plants would far exceed CO2 emission levels for the electricity sector under Japan’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC),” he explained.

A voluntary approach is taken by the electricity sector to meet the requirement of INDC. However, power producers have a strong incentive to operate their new coal-fired power plants at the highest capacity to increase profitability. For this reason, there is a strong financial disincentive for reducing CO2 emissions which makes such voluntary approach much less effective.

Dr. Tamura cautioned about the “lock-in” effect that these newly constructed fossil fuel power plants bring. “Once the plants become fully operational, we can expect that they will be ‘committed’ to emitting a high level of carbon emissions for many decades to come,” he added.

“It is now the responsibility of all countries to put into action the commitments made in Paris a year ago,” said Prof. Hironori Hamanaka, Chair of the Board of Directors at IGES. “Ahead of the COP22 climate talks in Marrakech, countries and corporations must fully understand that low-carbon, climate-sensitive actions are economically beneficial – they are essential to delivering sustainable, and equitable, economic prosperity.”

The brief also assesses mitigation measures, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon offsets, to help meet Japan’s mid- and long-term – 2030 and 2050 – emission targets. The paper, however, finds that CCS may not be fully utilised due to high cost and implementation risks. Offsetting fossil fuel power plant emissions using international carbon credits would also contradict Japan’s INDC policy that is premised on achieving the 2030 reduction target solely based on domestic measures.

"Our key recommendation is for Japan’s power producers to reconsider the feasibility of their construction and retrofitting plans for coal-fired power plants, along with their individual company-wide voluntary actions," said Akihisa Kuriyama, Policy Researcher at IGES, who is also one of the paper’s authors. "These plans should satisfy the 2030 emission intensity targets of the whole electricity sector by agreeing to operate coal-fired power plants at lower capacity factors, retiring older plants early, or terminating some of the construction and retrofitting plans. But it is unclear how these actions could be really taken under the current voluntary approach."

"If these company-led, voluntary actions appear unlikely to achieve the 2030 target, the government may need to resort to tougher legal measures," Mr. Kuriyama added, "for example, by enacting emission caps for the electricity sector or introducing a new policy mix consisting of emission intensity and capacity factor targets."

The issue brief on “Assessing the Emission Impacts of Current Plans for Constructing and Retrofitting Thermal Power Plants in Japan” is an English version of the latest research product which has been revised and updated with new insight and data from the working paper issued in March this year in Japan. It is available for download for free via this link:

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