Environment ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations agreed Friday to take concrete steps by the end of the year to stop government funding for international coal-fired power generation as part of efforts to curb global warming.
However, Britain -- this year's G-7 president which has proposed phasing out the use of coal-fired power generation -- was at odds with Japan, which exports highly efficient coal-fired power plants to developing countries that have no choice but to use such a type of power generation for economic reasons.
"(We) commit to take concrete steps towards an absolute end to new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021, including through Official Development Assistance, export finance, investment, and financial and trade promotion support," the ministers said in a communique issued after their two-day online meeting.
"Recognizing that coal power generation is the single biggest cause of global temperature increases, we commit now to rapidly scale-up technologies and policies that further accelerate the transition away from unabated coal capacity and to an overwhelmingly decarbonized power system in the 2030s," the communique said.
Phasing out government support for the funding of fossil fuels, which emit a large amount of greenhouse gases that warm the Earth, is regarded as essential to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.
The communique, however, contains no reference to the possible abolition of coal-fire power generation in each G-7 member, leading analysts to believe the group's call will have little impact on global efforts to address climate change.
The statement said the G-7 will phase out new direct government support for carbon intensive international fossil fuel energy, except "in limited circumstances at the discretion of each country," wording that leaves room for Japan to continue its energy policy featuring highly efficient coal-fired power generation.
"Japan has won (the G-7's) understanding of its policy," said an official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. "We understand that there is no need for us to review ongoing coal-fired power generation projects (overseas)."
Japan lags behind other G-7 members in phasing out coal-fired power plants domestically also 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.
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's reliance on coal-fired power stems partly from the 2011 Fukushima crisis that led many of its nuclear plants to suspend operations for safety checks.
The BBC ran a report criticizing Japan, saying the communique did not set a timeframe for phasing out the use of coal-fired power generation "with Japan arguing against strong strictures against coal."
Britain hopes Japan "will bend further on this" by U.N. climate change talks it will host in Glasgow in November, it said.
British daily The Guardian said Japan raised concerns about suspending its funding for coal-fired power generation in developing countries, arguing, "If it halted the financing, China would step in and build coal-fired power plants overseas that were less efficient than Japanese designs."
The G-7 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, plus the European Union.