ZHANGJIAKOU, China, Dec 27 (Reuters) – China is using the Winter Olympic Games to drive its efforts to improve the environment, but smog-prone capital Beijing is still preparing for the worst as the opening ceremony looms.
Beijing has improved its air quality since China won its bid to host the Games, but the Ministry of Ecology and Environment has said winter smog risks remained “severe”.
Ministry spokesman Liu Youbin told reporters on Thursday that contingency plans were in place.
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“When the time comes, Beijing and Hebei will be guided to adopt reasonable environmental protection measures in accordance with the law,” he said.
Rumours that polluting heavy industries in the area would be shuttered from Jan. 1 were “not true”, however, he said.
Critics warned in 2015 – when China won its bid – that the Winter Olympics could be overshadowed by hazardous smog in a region dominated by heavy industry. Chinese President Xi Jinping subsequently vowed to run a “green” Games, and Hebei promised to “transform and upgrade” its industrial economy.
Since then, China has planted thousands of hectares of trees in Beijing and surrounding Hebei province, built sprawling wind and solar farms, and relocated hundreds of enterprises.
In Zhangjiakou city, 200 km (125 miles) northwest of Beijing and host to skiing and snowboarding events, 26-year-old amateur skier Deng Zhongping said he has already felt the difference.
“When I came to Beijing a few years back I would suffer with rhinitis because of pollution, but the air quality in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei has improved a lot,” he said.
“I think the air quality at Zhangjiakou ski resort is even better than some foreign ski resorts.”
Wind turbines stand behind a snow gun operating at Genting Snow Park during a government-organised media tour to Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics venues in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, China December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
In 2016, average concentrations of PM2.5 in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region stood at 71 micrograms per cubic metre and soared to more than 500 micrograms over winter. That compares to an average 40 micrograms from January to September this year.
The reading in Beijing was 33 micrograms in the first three quarters, meeting China’s 35-microgram standard, although exceeding the recommended World Health Organization level of 5 micrograms and likely to rise much higher over winter.
“China will win many medals at the Winter Olympics, but the smog … could plunge the Games into difficulties,” the Washington-based International Fund for China’s Environment said earlier this year.
GREENING THE GAMES
Officials said during a government-organised tour this week that all 26 Olympic venues in Beijing and Hebei province would be 100% powered by renewable energy. More than 700 hydrogen-fuelled vehicles will also be deployed, despite the government falling short of a hydrogen production target.
Preparations have included a tree-planting programme that increased forest coverage in Zhangjiakou to 70%-80%, up from 56% previously.
China has also said it would make the Games “carbon neutral” for the first time. Environmental group Greenpeace, though, said without more data it would be hard to evaluate whether the goal was actually met.
Water scarcity is another concern, especially when it comes to creating artificial snow and ice.
Organisers said the Games would not put additional pressure on local water supplies and rely instead on cisterns that collected mountain runoff and rainfall during the summer – in line with China’s wider efforts to create a “circular” economy in which resources are fully utilised and recycled.
“We are all self-sufficient and ecologically circular,” said Wang Jingxian, a member of the 2022 Games planning committee.
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Reporting by Muyu Xu and David Stanway; Editing by Tom Hogue
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A Dutch court ruled Wednesday that Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, must accelerate its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to tackle climate change.
The District Court in The Hague ruled that Shell was “obliged” to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions of its activities by 45 percent at the end of 2030 compared with 2019. Shell is based in The Hague but is a global producer and supplier of oil and natural gas and other energy.
Shell has already adopted targets for emissions reduction, but the court requirements are likely to represent a substantial acceleration of the process of reducing emissions-producing fuels like oil and gas.
The ruling applies only in the Netherlands. Still, the defeat of an oil giant in a case brought by Milieudefensie, an environmental group, and other activists appeared to represent a kind of breakthrough in terms of a court’s willingness to dictate to a major business what it must do globally to protect the climate.
on the court website.
“But the court believes that the consequences of severe climate change are more important than Shell’s interests,” she added.
The court appeared to have accepted the environmentalists’ argument that not taking drastic measures on climate change would put lives in jeopardy.
“Severe climate change has consequences for human rights, including the right to life. And the court thinks that companies, among them Shell, have to respect those human rights,” Ms. Honée said.
A Shell spokesman said that the company expected “to appeal today’s disappointing court decision.”
The company said that it already had an extensive program to deal with climate change including billions of dollars of investment in low carbon energy including hydrogen, renewables like wind and solar and electric vehicle charging.
Carmakers have been promising to scrap the internal combustion engine, and now it’s the truckmakers’ turn. But the makers of giant 18-wheelers are taking a different route.
Daimler, the world’s largest maker of heavy trucks, whose Freightliners are a familiar sight on American interstates, said last week that it would convert to zero-emission vehicles within 15 years at the latest, providing another example of how the shift to electric power is reshaping vehicle manufacturing with significant implications for the climate, economic growth and jobs.
The journey away from fossil fuels will play out differently and take longer in the trucking industry than it will for passenger cars. For one thing, zero emission long-haul trucks are not yet available in large numbers.
And different technology may be needed to power the electric motors. Batteries work well for delivery vehicles and other short-haul trucks, which are already on the roads in significant numbers. But Daimler argues that battery power is not ideal for long-haul 18-wheelers, at least with current technology. The weight of the batteries alone subtracts too much from payload, an important consideration for cost-conscious trucking companies.
online presentation Thursday, Daimler executives announced a partnership with Shell to build a “hydrogen corridor” of fueling stations spanning northern Europe. For shorter-haul trucks, Daimler announced a partnership with the Chinese company CATL to develop batteries, and partnerships with Siemens and other companies to install high-voltage charging stations in Europe and the United States.
Trevor Milton, resigned last year facing accusations he had made numerous false assertions about the company’s hydrogen fuel-cell technology.
Nikola at least demonstrated how eager investors are to put their money into hydrogen trucks. Another example is Hyzon, a maker of fuel cells based in Rochester, N.Y., that has begun offering complete trucks and buses. In February, Hyzon was acquired by Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corporation, a so-called SPAC that raises money before it has any assets.
Tesla unveiled a design for a battery-powered semi truck in 2017, which the company has said it will begin delivering this year. Tesla, Scania and some other truckmakers are skeptical of hydrogen technology, which they regard as too expensive and less energy-efficient.
The traditional truckmakers like Daimler and Volvo have some advantages over the start-ups. Truck buyers tend to be practical hauling firms or drivers who carefully calculate the costs of maintenance and fuel consumption before they make a decision. Managers of big fleets may also be reluctant to take a chance on a manufacturer without a long track record.
President Biden has been promoting electric vehicles, but has not yet defined what that means for the trucking industry.
Trucking companies, which have depended on diesel for most of the last century, will have to revamp their maintenance departments, install their own charging or hydrogen fueling stations in some cases, retrain drivers and learn to plan their routes around hydrogen or electric charging points.
But Mr. Kedzie said that emission-free trucks also had some advantages. Fuel costs for battery-powered vehicles are much lower than for diesel trucks. Maintenance costs may be lower because electric vehicles have fewer moving parts. Drivers like the way electric trucks perform — an important factor at the moment when there is a driver shortage in America.
Many companies that ship a lot of goods, like Walmart or Target, are trying to reduce their carbon footprints and taking an interest in zero-emission trucks. “There are a lot of potential benefits” Mr. Kedzie said.
Daimler says its aim is to make battery-powered short-haul trucks that can compete on cost with diesel by 2025, and long-haul fuel-cell trucks that achieve diesel parity by 2027.
“In that very moment when the customer starts benefiting more from a zero-emission truck than a diesel truck, well, there’s no reason to buy a diesel truck anymore,” Andreas Gorbach, chief technology officer for Daimler’s trucks and buses division, said during the presentation Thursday. “This is the tipping point.”
MADRID — In the winter of 2015, three directors of a Connecticut electric company met with a potential acquirer: a determined Spanish utility executive named José Ignacio Sánchez Galán, who surprised them with a bold vision for America’s utility industry.
“He was very clear then that he saw the U.S. as having enormous potential in renewable energy,” said John L. Lahey, who was chairman of the company, United Illuminating. “This guy six years ago was already way ahead of where the U.S. was.”
Mr. Galán clinched that deal for United Illuminating for $3 billion. His company, Iberdrola, is now poised, with a Danish partner, to begin constructing the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States, in waters off Massachusetts. Over all, Iberdrola and its subsidiaries reach 24 U.S. states and have investments in countries from Britain to Brazil to Australia.
For the past 20 years, since he took over Iberdrola, based in Bilbao with 37,000 employees, Mr. Galán has been on a mission to upend the electrical utility industry, a fragmented collection of companies tied to aging coal- and oil-burning generators.
Biden administration in the United States and European countries tighten regulations and provide incentives to encourage investment in green energy.
“Galán without doubt was the chief executive of a big utility that first understood that the energy transition from fossil fuels to clean energy was unavoidable and that it would happen fast,” said Miguel Arias Cañete, a Spanish politician and former European commissioner for energy and climate action.
The changes at Iberdrola are happening elsewhere, as the electric power industry is being reconfigured not only by tougher environmental laws but also by the advantages of immense scale in buying wind turbines or solar panels.
Enel in Italy, Orsted in Denmark and Nextera Energy in the United States — that many analysts see as leaders of a new generation of “renewable majors,” comparable to the way oil majors like Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell exercised huge influence on how the world used energy.
Kyoto Protocol was signed, the first major international agreement to call on countries to reduce greenhouse gases to prevent global warming.
Many industrial giants vowed to fight laws to tighten emissions, but Mr. Galán was inspired. He said in an interview that he saw the agreement as an opening for businesses prepared to invest in technologies like wind and solar power that would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Instead of being a problem I saw that as an opportunity,” Mr. Galán said. The geopolitical trends represented by Kyoto were “moving in my direction.”
Today in Business
Under a 12 billion euro restructuring plan that was considered radical at the time, Iberdrola sold much of its portfolio of emissions-spewing coal and oil-fired power plants to invest instead in renewables, as well as in networks for delivering electricity.
Mr. Galán concedes that his proposals seemed risky, given that they coincided with the spectacular collapse of Enron, another ambitious electric power business.
major oil companies entered the bidding for options to build wind farms off the British coast, and the prices paid were criticized by some operators as too high.
it has done nothing wrong.
But for an executive known for making bold bets on the future, Mr. Galán, who is 70, has yet to announce any transition plans. He remains in firm control as both chairman and chief executive, and says he has no interest in retiring, once describing himself as “the dean of all chief executives of Europe.”
Some analysts say privately that he ought to be grooming a successor. His son and son-in-law are both managers at the company but are not seen as ready to step into the executive suite, and his second-in-command is 64.
“I think I have to continue just growing and conducting this company,” he said.
Stanley Reed reported from London, and Raphael Minder from Madrid.
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada will arrive for President Biden’s climate summit on Thursday with an outsize reputation for being a warrior in the global fight against climate change.
But one facet of Canada’s economy complicates his record: the country’s insistence on expanding output from its oil sands.
Between Mr. Trudeau’s election in 2015 and 2019, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 1 percent, despite decreases in other rich nations during the same period, according to government data released last week. In fact, Canada is the only Group of 7 country whose emissions have risen since the Paris climate agreement was signed six years ago.
Canadian officials insist that Mr. Trudeau’s policies simply need more time to work. But environmentalists counter that Canada can’t reduce emissions without reducing oil production from the sands.
declared them obsolete, the political backlash would be overwhelming.
A spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which represents oil companies, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“There’s a disconnect, at least on the international stage, between Canada’s reputation on climate and the reality of action on the ground,” said Catherine Abreu, the executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, a coalition of about 100 labor, Indigenous, environmental and religious groups. “We have to really have to stop selling ourselves that perhaps comforting, but dangerous, lie that there is room for the oil sands in the future.”
Mr. Trudeau’s commitment to stopping climate change. Canada increased its carbon price — which provinces must adopt or have imposed by the federal government — to 40 Canadian dollars a metric ton this month and it is scheduled to rise to 170 dollars by the end of the decade. The government has also moved forward on clean fuel standards, as well as limiting leaks of methane, a potent climate change gas, and other measures.
reversed American policies to combat it.
Now Mr. Biden has made climate a central issue for his administration. At the summit, he is expected to announce that the United States will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by about half by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.
Mr. Trudeau is expected to announce a new reduction target for the same period, but few experts expect him to match Mr. Biden’s cut.
The timing could leave Canada in a bind, according to Dale Beugin, vice president for research and analysis at the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, a nonpartisan research group.
Mr. Trudeau’s pledge to raise the carbon tax to 170 Canadian dollars, announced late last year, is already seen as ambitious, Mr. Beugin said.
percent of its electricity comes from sources that do not emit carbon, the largest one being hydroelectric dams. In 2019, emissions from Canada’s electricity generation fell below oil sands emissions for the first time.
capture carbon dioxide and store it underground is only being used at a single plant that turns bitumen into crude oil.
“We still have a huge challenge,” said Professor Leach. “You see people almost declaring victory before the first battle’s been fought.”
In its budget this week, Mr. Trudeau’s government set aside 2 billion Canadian dollars to offer Canadian industries a tax credit for carbon capture, but its details still need to be worked out.
The offer comes a month after Jason Kenney, the Conservative premier of Alberta, called on Mr. Trudeau’s government to provide 30 billion Canadian dollars for the development of carbon capture technologies.
While a step of that magnitude might be popular in Alberta, where Mr. Trudeau attracts little support,it could be seen as an oil industry subsidy and alienate voters elsewhere in country who support the Liberals, carbon taxes and other climate measures.
Many environmentalists in Canada say that rather than subsidize the energy industry, Mr. Trudeau’s government should openly acknowledge that the oil sands are a declining industry and start focusing on managing that decline and investing in new job opportunities for its thousands of workers.
“Canada’s oil gas sector produces some of the dirtiest and most expensive fossil fuels in the world,” said Ms. Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada. “It’s really unrealistic for governments in this country to keep telling the public that we can expect that industry to continue indefinitely.”
Christopher Flavelle reported from Washington. Brad Plumer contributed reporting from Washington.
“This is about getting the best, optimal delivery vehicle for us,” Mr. Wake said.
Globally, UPS operates a fleet of about 120,000 vehicles, and around 13,000 of them use alternatives to diesel engines such as batteries.
In addition to UPS, BlackRock and the South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia have invested in Arrival.
Electric vehicle companies have attracted frenzied interest from investors, who hope to find the next Tesla, which is valued at more than $650 billion, more than G.M., Ford Motor, Toyota Motor and Volkswagen combined. Wall Street’s interest has encouraged a parade of fledgling companies — some, including Arrival, that are not yet selling vehicles, let alone making a profit — to list their shares on the stock exchange.
A few have already disappointed investors. The stock of Nikola, which is trying to develop heavy trucks powered by batteries and hydrogen fuel cells, plunged after a small investment firm, Hindenburg Research, said the company had exaggerated its technological abilities. Nikola denied wrongdoing but acknowledged in a February securities filing that some of what it had previously said about its vehicles and technology was inaccurate.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Nikola and another company, Lordstown Motors, which aims to make electric pickup trucks. Hindenburg also published a report about Lordstown, accusing it of exaggerating interest in its trucks and its production abilities. Lordstown denies Hindenburg’s claims.
Many E.V. start-ups have acquired stock listings by merging with special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs — businesses set up with a pot of cash and a stock listing. Such mergers allow start-ups to join the stock market without the scrutiny of an initial public offering of stock.
Arrival completed its merger with a SPAC in March. But it remains a long way from turning its vision into a viable business. It has assembled a few prototype vans but has not yet begun testing them on public roads. The company’s shares started trading on March 25 at $22.40 but have since fallen to about $14.
SEOUL — President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has a message for the United States: President Biden needs to engage now with North Korea.
In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Moon pushed the American leader to kick-start negotiations with the government of Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, after two years in which diplomatic progress stalled, even reversed. Denuclearization, the South Korean president said, was a “matter of survival” for his country.
He also urged the United States to cooperate with China on North Korea and other issues of global concern, including climate change. The deteriorating relations between the superpowers, he said, could undermine any negotiations over denuclearization.
“If tensions between the United States and China intensify, North Korea can take advantage of it and capitalize on it,” Mr. Moon said.
work to achieve denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula has since unraveled.
President Donald J. Trump left office without removing a single North Korean nuclear warhead. Mr. Kim has resumed weapons tests.
“He beat around the bush and failed to pull it through,” Mr. Moon said of Mr. Trump’s efforts on North Korea. “The most important starting point for both governments is to have the will for dialogue and to sit down face to face at an early date.”
Now in his final year in office, Mr. Moon is determined to start all over again — and knows he faces a very different leader in Mr. Biden.
annual threat assessment released last week, the United States’ director of national intelligence said Mr. Kim “believes that over time he will gain international acceptance and respect as a nuclear power.”
But Mr. Moon’s team argues that the phased approach is the most realistic, even if it is imperfect. As his administration sees it, North Korea would never give up its arsenal in one quick deal, lest the regime lose its only bargaining chip with Washington.
The key, Mr. Moon said, is for the United States and North Korea to work out a “mutually trusted road map.”
American negotiators under Mr. Trump never made it to that point. Both sides could not even agree on a first step for the North and what reward Washington would provide in return.
real-estate and other scandals. This month, angry voters delivered crushing defeats to his Democratic Party in the mayoral elections in South Korea’s two largest cities.
That is a sharp turn of fortune from the start of his administration, when Mr. Moon parlayed a hair-raising geopolitical crisis into a signature policy initiative.
“When I took office back in 2017, we were really concerned about the possibility of war breaking out once again on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
Four days into his tenure, North Korea launched its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile that it said could target Hawaii and Alaska. Then the North tested a hydrogen bomb and three intercontinental ballistic missiles. In response, Mr. Trump threatened “fire and fury,” as American Navy carrier groups steamed toward the peninsula.
there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” When Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump met again in 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam, the negotiations went nowhere, and the men left without an agreement on how to move forward with the Singapore deal.
While Mr. Moon was careful to dole out praise for Mr. Trump, he also seemed frustrated by the former president’s erratic behavior and Twitter diplomacy. Mr. Trump canceled or downsized the annual joint military drills that the United States conducts with the South and demanded what Mr. Moon called an “excessive amount” to keep 28,500 American troops in South Korea.
strike a deal within 46 days of Mr. Biden’s inauguration was a “clear testament to the importance President Biden attaches to” the alliance.
Mr. Moon is hopeful about the progress the new American leader can make on North Korea, although any significant breakthrough may be unrealistic, given the deep mistrust between Washington and Pyongyang.
Mr. Biden said last month that he was “prepared for some form of diplomacy” with North Korea, but that “it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”
North Korea has offered ideas on a phased approach starting with the demolition of its only-known nuclear test site, followed by the dismantling of a rocket engine test facility and the nuclear complex in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang.
Mr. Moon said he believed such steps, if matched with American concessions, could lead to the removal of the North’s more prized assets, like I.C.B.M.s. In that scenario, he said, the move toward complete denuclearization becomes “irreversible.”
“This dialogue and diplomacy can lead to denuclearization,” he said. “If both sides learn from the failure in Hanoi and put their heads together for more realistic ideas, I am confident that they can find a solution.”
The pandemic abruptly slowed the global march of coal. But demand for the world’s dirtiest fuel is forecast to soar this year, gravely undermining the chances of staving off the worst effects of global warming.
Burning coal is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, and, after a pandemic-year retreat, demand for coal is set to rise by 4.5 percent this year, mainly to meet soaring electricity demand, according to data published Tuesday by the International Energy Agency, just two days before a White House-hosted virtual summit aimed at rallying global climate action.
“This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” Fatih Birol, the head of the agency, said in a statement.
dropped to its lowest level in a decade in 2019. And, over the last 20 years, more coal-fired power plants have been retired or shelved than commissioned. The big holdouts are China, India and parts of Southeast Asia, but, even there, coal’s once-swift growth is nowhere as swift as it was just a few years ago, according to a recent analysis.
In some countries where new coal-fired power plants were only recently being built by the gigawatts, plans for new ones have been shelved, as in South Africa, or reconsidered, as in Bangladesh, or facing funding troubles, as in Vietnam. In some countries, like India, existing coal plants are running way below capacity and losing money. In others, like the United States, they are being decommissioned faster than ever.
where coal use is growing, the pace of growth is slowing.
In South Africa, after years of lawsuits, plans to build a coal-fired power station in Limpopo Province were canceled last November.
In Kenya, a proposed coal plant has languished for years because of litigation. In Egypt, a planned coal plant is indefinitely postponed. In Bangladesh, Chinese-backed projects are among 15 planned coal plants that the government in Dhaka is reviewing, with an eye to canceling them altogether.
Pakistan, saddled by debts, announced a vague moratorium on new coal projects. Vietnam, which is still expanding its coal fleet, scaled back plans for new plants. The Philippines, under pressure from citizens’ groups, hit the pause button on new projects.
“Broadly speaking, there’s growing opposition against coal and a lot more scrutiny right now,” said Daine Loh, a Southeast Asia power sector energy specialist at Fitch Solutions, an industry analysis firm. “It’s a trend — moving away from coal. It’s very gradual.”
Money is part of the problem. Development banks are shying away from coal. Japan and Korea, two major financiers of coal, have tightened restrictions on new coal projects. Japan is still building coal plants at home, rare among industrialized countries, though Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in October that his country would aspire to draw down its emissions to net-zero by 2050.
Australia continue to mine their abundant coal deposits. Perhaps most oddly, Britain, which is hosting the next international climate talks, is opening a new coal mine.
And then there are the world’s biggest coal consumers, China and India.
China’s economy rebounded in 2020. Government stimulus measures encouraged the production of steel, cement and other industrial products that eat up energy. Coal demand rose. The capacity of China’s fleet of coal-fired power plants grew by a whopping 38 gigawatts in 2020, making up the vast majority of new coal projects worldwide and offsetting nearly the same amount of coal capacity that was retired worldwide. (One gigawatt is enough to power a medium-sized city.)
Coal’s future in China is at the center of a robust debate in the country, with prominent policy advisers pressing for a near-moratorium on new coal plants and state-owned companies insisting that China needs to burn more coal for years to come.
to remain open, and it is seeking private investors to mine coal. If India’s economy recovers this year, its coal demand is set to rise by 9 percent, according to the I.E.A.
But even India’s coal fleet isn’t growing as fast as it was just a few years ago. On paper, India plans to add some 60 gigawatts of coal power capacity by 2026, but given how many existing plants are operating at barely half capacity, it’s unclear how many new ones will ultimately be built. A handful of state politicians have publicly opposed new coal-fired power plants in their states.
How much more coal India needs to burn, said Ritu Mathur, an economist at The Energy & Resources Institute in New Delhi, depends on how fast its electricity demand grows — and it could grow very fast if India pushes electric vehicles. “To say we can do away with coal, or that renewables can meet all our demand,” Dr. Mathur said, “is not the story.”
nearly one-fourth of all energy worldwide.
Its proponents argue that gas, which is less polluting than coal, should be promoted in energy-hungry countries that cannot afford a rapid scale-up of renewable energy. Its critics say multibillion dollar investments in gas projects risk becoming stranded assets, like coal-fired power plants already are in some countries; they add that methane emissions from the combustion of gas are incompatible with the Paris Agreement goal of slowing down climate change.
in Vietnam. Gas demand is growing sharply in Bangladesh, as the government looks to shift away from coal to meet its galloping energy needs. Ghana this year became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to import liquefied natural gas. And the U.S. Agency for International Development has been promoting gas as a way to electrify homes and businesses across Africa.
And there’s the rub for the Biden administration: While it has set out to be a global climate leader, it has not yet explained its policy on advancing gas exports — particularly on the use of public funds to build gas infrastructure abroad.
“There’s fairly strong consensus around coal. The big question is around gas,” said Manish Bapna, acting president of the World Resources Institute. “The broader climate community is starting to think about what a gas transition looks like.”
Julfikar Ali Manik and Hiroko Tabuchi contributed reporting.
TOKYO — In late 2019, the Japanese government convened diplomats from 22 countries for a briefing on its handling of more than a million tons of wastewater from Fukushima’s crippled nuclear reactors.
Storage space was rapidly running out, the authorities explained, and they were considering several solutions. Among them was removing the most harmful radioactive material from the water and then gradually releasing it into the ocean. The diplomats raised no objections, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
On Tuesday, when Japan officially announced that it would put the plan into action, the knives came out. South Korea denounced it as “utterly intolerable” and summoned the Japanese ambassador. China cited “grave concerns.” Taiwan also raised strong objections.
Japan has dismissed criticism of its plan as unscientific, saying that the treated water is well within safety standards, and pointing out that such releases into oceans are routine around the world. But its argument, as the reaction on Tuesday showed, leaves Tokyo a long way from winning its neighbors’ trust, a challenge made all the more difficult by growing regional tensions on a range of issues.
Japan’s handling of the nuclear disaster. China and South Korea are among 15 countries or regions that have banned or restricted food imports from Fukushima, despite the Japanese government’s abundant efforts to demonstrate that products from the area, from rice to fish, are safe to eat.
International advocacy groups, like Greenpeace, have also criticized the government’s decision, arguing that it is a cost-saving measure that ignores the potential environmental harms. The group advocates building additional storage facilities for the waste instead.
Even at home, the idea of pouring water, treated or not, from the crippled plant into the ocean is unpopular. In a national poll late last year by the Japanese daily The Asahi Shimbun, 55 percent of respondents opposed the plan.
It is even less welcome in Fukushima itself, where residents fear that the mere perception of risk will destroy the local fishing industry, which has been hoping for a rebound after a decade of self-imposed limits.
the 2011 earthquake and tsunami generates more than 150 additional tons a day.
Under the plan, powerful filters will be used to remove all of the radioactive material from the water except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say is not harmful to human health in small doses. Radiation levels in the resulting product, the government says, are lower than those found in drinking water. Japan intends to start releasing the water in 2023, in a process that is expected to take decades.
In an effort to ease minds at home, the authorities have placed dosimeters around the prefecture to monitor radiation levels and conduct routine screenings of seafood from the region. The government has held public hearings on the plan in Fukushima and in Tokyo.
The authorities say that they have also discussed the issue extensively with other countries and at international forums. In a news briefing on Tuesday, a Japanese official said that the country had held 108 group briefings for diplomats in Japan and had met with representatives from China and South Korea on the day of the announcement to explain the decision.
The United States came out in support of the plan. The International Atomic Energy Agency also endorsed it, saying in a statement that it was “in line with practice globally, even though the large amount of water at the Fukushima plant makes it a unique and complex case.”
The gap between such reassurances and the strident reactions closer to home was striking.
The outrage in the region is “quite understandable,” said Nanako Shimizu, an associate professor of international relations at Utsunomiya University in Japan who is opposed to the plan.
“If South Korea or China announced the same thing, I’m sure that the Japanese government and the vast majority of the Japanese people would also object,” she said.
Governments in the region most likely feel domestic pressure to take a strong stance, said Eunjung Lim, an associate professor of international relations at Kongju National University in Gongju, South Korea, who specializes in Japan and South Korea.
Whether their worries are rational or not, many people in the region “are going to be very, very anxious about what would happen if this radioactive material came into our near seas and contaminated our resources,” she said.
Even under the best of circumstances, Japan would find it “really difficult to persuade its neighbors to accept this kind of decision, because obviously, it’s not our fault. It’s Japan’s fault, so why do we have to experience this kind of difficulty?” she added.
Regional tensions have made surrounding countries even less receptive to the plan. In recent years, territorial disputes and disagreements over trade and historical issues related to World War II have strained Japan’s relations with China and South Korea, with spillover effects on government dialogues across a broad range of issues.
China warned Japan on Tuesday against taking any decision without further consultation with the international community, saying that it “reserved the right to take further action.”
In its statement, South Korea accused Japan of taking “unilateral action” without seeking consultation and understanding with South Korea, which “lies closest to Japan.”
Some in Japan believe that such complaints should be met with more than scientific arguments. Shunichi Tanaka, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said that the criticism smacked of hypocrisy.
South Korea itself operates four heavy-water reactors that routinely discharge water containing tritium at higher levels than those planned in Fukushima, he said in a recent interview.
“When South Korea makes claims like this, we shouldn’t be quiet, we need to properly refute them,” he said.
But the challenge Japan faces is not just on the global stage. At home, many are reluctant to trust the government or Tepco, the nuclear plant’s operator.
A parliamentary commission found that the meltdowns had been the result of a lack of oversight and of collusion between the government, the plant’s owner and regulators. And Tepco was forced to retract assertions that it had treated most of the wastewater. In fact, it had completely processed only about one-fifth, a problem that arose from a failure to change filters in the decontamination system frequently enough.
Ultimately, Japan is in a battle to alter perceptions, whether of the trustworthiness of its own government or of the risk posed by the treated water, said Hirohiko Fukushima, a professor at Chuo Gakuin University specializing in local governance issues.
In Fukushima, the government’s response to local concerns has often come across as highhanded, he said. Changing that view will require the authorities to improve transparency around their decisions and build new relationships, he said.
“From my perspective,” he added, “it’s probably difficult for Japan to convince foreign countries when it can’t even convince its own people.”
Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting from Seoul. Albee Zhang contributed research from Shanghai.
Japan said on Tuesday that it had decided to gradually release tons of treated wastewater from the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the ocean, describing it as the best option for disposal despite fierce opposition from fishing crews at home and concern from governments abroad.
The plan to release the water in two years was approved during a cabinet meeting of ministers early Tuesday.
Disposal of the wastewater has been long delayed by public opposition and by safety concerns. But the space used to store the water is expected to run out next year, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told lawmakers on Monday that the ocean release was “unavoidable” and could no longer be postponed.
The Fukushima crisis was set off in March 2011 by a huge earthquake and tsunami that ripped through northeastern Japan and killed more than 19,000 people. The subsequent meltdown of three of the plant’s six reactors was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Tens of thousands of people fled the area around the plant or were evacuated, in many cases never to return.
Ten years later, the cleanup is far from finished at the disabled plant, which is operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company. To keep the three damaged reactor cores from melting, cooling water is pumped through them continuously. The water is then sent through a powerful filtration system that is able to remove all of the radioactive material except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say is not harmful to human health in small doses.
said last year that both options were “technically feasible.” Nuclear power plants around the world routinely discharge treated wastewater containing tritium into the sea.
But the Japanese government’s plan faces strong opposition from local officials and fishing crews, who say that it would add to consumer fears about the safety of Fukushima seafood. Catch levels in the area are already a small fraction of what they were before the disaster.