Coal in Japan: logics, divestment and dependency

Brown coal -Image by R. Dobberstein, Pixabay

This seminar was recorded on Tuesday 22 October at the Australian National University. Please do not reproduce without permission.

Continued investments in coal-fired power plants (CFPPs) and coal mines are incompatible with the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement. As the world’s fourth largest coal consumer and a major investor in overseas coal mines, Japan’s efforts to reduce coal usage are critical for international climate mitigation. Yet policies introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster have prompted a rush of new CFPP constructions from both incumbent utilities and new market entrants. In parallel, state agencies and industry are vigorously exporting CFPP technologies to developing countries amidst harsh international criticism. Meanwhile trading companies are making news headlines by selling off thermal assets in Australia and refraining from new investments. This is despite a multi-decade history of investment in Australia’s coal mining industry.

As coal power continues to decline in other OECD nations and efforts to phase-out coal power gather momentum around the world, how to interpret the logics, drivers and path dependencies in Japan’s domestic and international coal market? Although NGOs and popular media have covered recent shifts in Japan’s coal market, academic studies are lacking, with most focused on post-Fukushima renewables and nuclear policy.

Addressing this gap, this seminar firstly investigates the policies and narratives from government and industry that are driving the continuation of Japan’s domestic and overseas coal industry. It then moves to examine divestment trends in the four industries comprising Japan’s international coal market (trading companies, electric utilities, plant equipment manufacturers and financial institutions) in addition to the drivers and barriers to this process.

About the speaker

Gregory Trencher has been an Associate professor at Tohoku University in Japan at the Graduate School of Environmental Studies since January 2017. Gregory’s work examines innovation processes and governance strategies for advancing urban sustainability and transitioning to a sustainable energy system. A core area of his research has focused on energy policy and smart cities in Japan.

Gregory’s latest project examines the obstacles affecting the diffusion of fuel-cell vehicles and strategies used to overcome these. Regarding coal research, he is currently examining the positions and business strategies of Japanese business firms involved in domestic and international coal projects. This covers both construction of coal fired power plants and coal mining. Gregory is also examining the role that smart cities can play in addressing social challenges and resident needs. Recent work involves empirical case work in various Japanese cities.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet