Criticism of Japan's coal policy is raising climate awareness at home: Koizumi

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said on Thursday criticism heaped on the Asian nation for its coal policies at this month’s U.N. climate talks had helped raise his countrymen’s awareness of fossil fuels and climate change.

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi attends a news conference at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

Koizumi, tipped as a future prime minister, told the conference in Madrid last week that global criticism of his country’s “addiction to coal” was hitting home, but warned he had yet to win wider government buy-in for his hopes of weaning the country off fossil fuels.

Japanese media reported widely on the criticism he got, including the “Fossil of the Day” badge given by campaigners mocking Japan.

“When I was preparing for the speech, I was thinking why don’t I take this opportunity to make Japan become aware and recognize how fiercely Japan is criticized by global community with regard to thermal coal power,” Koizumi told foreign media in Tokyo on Thursday.

Koizumi, 38, said there was very high interest in nuclear power generation among Japanese citizens, but they had paid very little attention to coal-fired power plants, causing a huge gap between the views of the global and Japanese communities.

“I could say having local media reports about the ‘Fossil of the Day’ award and various criticism I have received was a success,” he said.

Japan has been criticized for its heavy use of coal-fired power generation and plans to build new coal-fired plants at home, the only G7 nation still building coal plants at home.

Japan is also blamed for being a big financier of new coal plants in Southeast Asia.

Remarks by the popular Koizumi, the son of a former prime minister, have attracted much attention in Japan. He caused an uproar in Japan in September when he said in New York his country should make climate action “sexy” and “cool” to mobilize young people.

“When I went to New York and ate a stake, I was criticized. When I said ‘sexy’, I was criticized,” he said.

“I was also criticized on coal this time, but I believe Japanese awareness about environment is increasing every time I get criticized,” he said.

Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman