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Mountain top wind turbines in Japan

Kyoto City, the Powering Past Coal Alliance’s first member in Japan, is gaining recognition in the country and abroad for its pioneering actions to phase out coal power. Insights into its climate policies, as well as the role of subnational governments in accelerating the clean energy transition more broadly, were discussed at a recent British Embassy in Tokyo event.

Mountain top wind turbines in Japan
Mountain top wind turbines in Japan

On March 23, the British Embassy in Tokyo hosted a webinar focused on local government action on the clean energy transition, with keynote speeches from Japanese subnational governments, the UK government and C40 cities, a group of 97 cities collaborating to fight climate change and its impacts in urban areas. Presentations were followed by a panel discussion on how to overcome the country’s particular set of energy challenges.

Kyoto City leading the way on coal phase out in Japan

The capital city of Japan for more than 1000 years before Tokyo, Kyoto City became the very first local Japanese government to join the PPCA in 2021 with the aim of setting a trend in Japan to phase out coal and encouraging Japanese energy suppliers and the national government to expand their use of renewables.

The country’s current energy mix for 2030 includes 36-38% of renewable energy, but still utilises 19% of coal. In line with the most recent climate science, OECD countries must immediately stop construction of any new coal power plants and phase out coal power generation by 2030. For a country like Japan with a large share of coal power, charting this path can be a daunting challenge. In absence of a clear timeline for phasing out emissions from coal power, cities are stepping forward to lead the way.

Since joining the Alliance, Kyoto City has taken an active role in accelerating the country’s transition from coal to renewables and positioned itself as a leader on coal phase out in Japan. Its goal is to become a carbon free model city and share its experience with the national government.

Daisaku Kadokawa, Mayor of Kyoto City said:

“In the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed at COP26 last year, it was noted that local governments have a crucial responsibility to tackle global decarbonisation. In 2019, Kyoto was the first Japanese city to commit to net zero by 2050 and now this has spread across the country and become the national government’s policy. We hope to continue playing a leading role in Japan. Decarbonising the energy sector is essential for achieving the 1.5-degree goal.”

Created in 2021, the Kyoto City Climate Action plan aims to reduce carbon emissions and increase its share of renewable energy to 35% or higher by 2030, and 100% by 2050. Given its location in a valley where it is not exposed to much wind, Kyoto has instead focused on solar power, implementing plans for zero-yen solar projects so that panels can be installed without start-up costs. To meet Kyoto’s demand for renewables, the city has put in place renewable energy partnerships with Aizu Wakamatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture as well as ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability. In the construction sector, architects are required since 2021 to explain the benefits of renewable energy to homeowners and potential buyers. A shareholder in Kansai Electric Power, Kyoto City has also put forward a resolution in 2021 to the Japanese utility’s board requiring it to decarbonise to meet international targets on climate action.

Cities accelerating Japan’s transition to clean energy

Beyond Kyoto, other Japanese cities are also accelerating the country’s energy transition through a variety of policies and measures. In Tokyo, which has committed to net zero by 2050 and halving its emissions by 2030, renewable energy is becoming a key energy source. The city’s ‘cap-and-trade programme’, through which it mandates CO2 reductions from large facilities such as commercial and industrial buildings to support the shift away from fossil fuels, continues to reduce emissions and attract interest from international actors.

Elsewhere, Yokohama’s city hall is fully powered by renewable energy, and the city has also launched an energy consultancy for its citizens to share target objectives and exchange opinions. In Nagasaki Prefecture, Goto City is set to have the first commercial floating offshore wind farm in Japan and is successfully using this new asset to become a popular tourist attraction.

British Ambassador to Japan, Julia Longbottom CMG said:

“Today we have Kyoto City, the first local government in Japan to join the PPCA which received a high evaluation from international audiences including the UK, and we hope that more local governments will sign the PPCA initiative.”

The role these cities play in accelerating Japan’s transition to clean energy cannot be overstated, as shown in a report presented by C40 Cities, Coal-free cities: the health and economic case for a clean energy revolution. Cities are heavily impacted by emissions from coal power plants, with air pollution affecting the number of premature deaths, preterm births and asthma cases. In case of the two C40 cities in Japan, Tokyo and Yokohama, the findings show that pollution from coal power plants will result in over 5000 premature deaths over this decade. At the same time, a transition to 100% clean, renewable energy in line with the 1.5℃ target could result in job increases, with 241,000 jobs estimated in Tokyo and 26,000 in Yokohama between 2020 and 2030.

Dr. Rachel Huxley, Director of Knowledge and Learning at C40 Cities said:

“Clean energy is cheaper and better for employment and healthier for people and the planet. Cities can start to champion this clean energy future. That’s about using their influence to engage wider stakeholders and joining organisations like the Powering Past Coal Alliance to send an international and national message.”

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