How Japan Could Be A True Climate Leader

By Fenton Lutunatabua, Pacific Regional Coordinator

Use its role and influence to shift the Asian Development Bank’s finance to projects we want and need

As the ADB closes up its 52nd Annual General Meeting, the question that most folks working in the climate change space have on their minds is likely to be ‘which side of the climate change struggle is the ADB on?’

The reality is that among the 68 member countries represented at the high-level meeting, the agenda is driven by more developed members, whose existing models of development are a major driver of climate change. A prime illustration of this was seen at the session on the Impact of ADB’s Energy Policy and the Paris Agreement, where there was a stark absence of a Fijian or Pacific voice in the line-up of panellists.

However maybe, there is hope that the country that could best help determine the ADB’s stance on climate change is the biggest shareholder, and source of its current President: Japan.

Climate change threatens the very existence of Pacific Islanders; who are increasingly concerned about climate change due to the increased severity and frequency of natural disasters, as well as rising sea levels, which have already led to the relocation of communities, with 43 Fijian communities earmarked for relocation in the coming year.

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, as the host of the upcoming G20 Summit is in a pivotal position globally and has challenged other world leaders to ‘take more robust actions’ in the climate action battle. Ironically, at home, the Abe government continues to finance coal plants around the world, with the recent approval by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation approving a $1.2billion loan for a coal plant in Vietnam.

As a key member of the ADB, Japan can use its power to influence the financing of coal and other fossil fuel operations. If the intention to foster a genuine sustainable development relationship with Fiji and the rest of the Pacific, and provide global leadership on climate change is  real then it must. Nations such as Japan, who have been one of the major historical carbon emitters and still contribute to coal financing, need to walk the talk of their current leadership both through private and public institutions by providing solutions to those facing the brunt of climate change.

Japan should stop financing coal operations more swiftly – ending all public money and enacting regulations on Japan’s commercial banks  to ensure financial flows are aligned with the Paris Agreement. A recent report indicates that since January 2018, more than 100 major global financial institutions have announced more stringent policies on coal, with the momentum accelerating rapidly in the shift away from coal financing.

Despite the global shift, the 3 major banks in Japan are among the top four in a list of global banks granting loans for coal-powered plant development.  Mizuho Financial Group Inctopped the list with $12.8 billion (about 1.4 trillion yen), while MUFG ranked second with $9.9 billion, according to a report. Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. (SMBC) came fourth with $4.2 billion.

Aside from the obvious contribution of coal operations to climate change whose impacts as being felt in Fiji, coal plants could cause about 43,000 premature deaths each year by 2030, primarily from respiratory and cardiovascular disease from air pollution, according to a 2017 study led by Harvard University researchers on Indonesia and Vietnam.

The ADB forum is an ideal platform for Japan to take a first step to prove its seriousness as a leader for climate action –  by formally adopting a policy to  end financing for coal operations, and influencing the ADB to put restrictions in place to limit oil and gas lending, which would improve the Bank’s green to brown energy lending ratio to bring it into line with what people in Fiji expect and demand.

Furthermore, Japan has passed Climate Adaptation Legislation making it mandatory for them to deploy climate change counter measures. They need to live up to their own laws, especially when engaging in the global climate discussion.

The 52nd ADB meeting might close on high notes by progressing other development issues, but the time for real climate leadership is still open. Act now Japan. And follow through at the G20. People here are watching you even as we watch our islands come under increasing climate stress.



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Fenton Lutunatabua


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