C: Charlie Belt

Last night, President Biden hosted a lavish reception at the White House to celebrate the state visit of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. This honor is only given to America’s closest allies.

Celebrity guests, Ambassadors, and billionaires were greeted with exquisite fine dining in the East Room, decorated with cherry blossoms and Japanese fans. Paul Simon sang some of his famous songs, including Graceland. Before the dinner, Biden toasted “to our alliance, to our friendship” with Japan.

Earlier in the day, Biden and Kishida announced several initiatives on enhanced military and economic cooperation. The two leaders also issued a joint statement that pledged to work together to “accelerate climate action,” among other things. 

However, this joint statement added, “The United States remains unwavering in its commitment to support the energy security of Japan and other allies, including its ability to predictably supply LNG [liquefied natural gas]. ”

The bottom line is that you cannot accelerate climate action and expand dirty Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) simultaneously. Climate experts and energy analysts have long called this a misnomer. According to the International Energy Agency, the world’s energy watchdog, you cannot expand new gas investment if you want a liveable future. OCI tweeted yesterday in response to the statement:

Indeed, Kishida seems more interested in expanding LNG than climate action. It is for that reason that as the leaders were meeting, there was a civil society protest outside:

It is not difficult to see why Japan’s actions concern civil society and climate experts. Japan remains addicted to fossil fuels and is trying to spread that addiction across Southeast Asia. One of the first stops that Prime Minister Kishida made after getting off the plane in the U.S. was with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Venture Global, a growing supplier of LNG to Japan and the company behind the currently paused CP2 project.

The best way to “accelerate climate action” and to ensure energy and economic security in Asia is the rapid, just development of renewable energy. Although the US and Japanese governments have a unique opportunity to upscale the scale of renewables buildout in Asia, the reality at the moment is somewhat different.

“Don’t these global luminaries understand that putting our shared energy future in the hands of greedy gas corporations is anything but predictable and secure?” said Jeffrey Jacoby of Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Japan is continuing to drive the expansion of fossil fuels across Asia and is derailing the transition to renewable energy. This harms communities and ecosystems, undermines energy security, and worsens the climate crisis. The facts speak for themselves:

Moreover, before Kishida’s visit to the US, Japan approved over $2.7 billion in financing for new gas projects, which will worsen the climate crisis and undermine economic and energy security. The Japanese government approved funding for the controversial gas field in Australia, Block B gas project in Vietnam, the San Luis Potosi and Salamanca gas plants in Mexico and financing to import LNG. 

Japanese financed LNG projects not only harm the climate but also communities, especially those along the US Gulf Coast. There is no doubt that sustained and growing opposition from frontline communities and climate activists led to the Biden administration putting a historic pause on new authorizations for LNG exports. This pause was driven by LNG’s Achilles heel: the emissions of methane, the potent greenhouse gas, and environmental justice issues for nearby communities.

As Bloomberg has reported: “When the Biden administration paused approval of new liquefied natural gas export licenses in January, the decision was driven by a recognition that the climate impact from the fossil fuel needs to be reassessed.”

Last October, a scientific analysis by Robert Howarth, a professor at Cornell University, concluded that total greenhouse gas emissions from US LNG in a best-case scenario are comparable to coal, which has long been seen as the dirtiest fossil fuel. The worst case is that emissions could be more than two-fold greater.

It is hardly surprising that the pause incensed the oil and gas industry but has been welcomed by climate scientists and frontline communities. Those communities are slowly notching up climate victory after climate victory: They have stopped projects from Anova in Texas to Jordan Cove in Oregon and are working tirelessly to stop all pending LNG export projects and fossil fuel infrastructure. Further, strong Global South-led movements have emerged calling on Japan and rich countries to Don’t Gas Asia and Don’t Gas Africa.  

Today, Prime Minister Kishida headed to Capitol Hill to address Congress and then met with Biden and Bongbong Marcos, the leader of the Philippines, for a trilateral meeting. Civil society groups have a clear and compelling message for Kishida: 

“While it was encouraging to hear Prime Minister Kishida acknowledge the extreme impacts of the climate crisis in his speech to Congress today, it is extremely concerning how much of his time in the country was spent meeting with fossil fuel CEOs, pushing support for gas,” said Allie Rosenbluth, U.S. Program Co-Manager of Oil Change International. “Japan’s Prime Minister seems to misunderstand that any expansion of gas is incompatible with addressing the climate crisis. Japanese financed LNG projects have left a legacy of harm globally, including along the Gulf Coast. President Biden’s recent decision to pause new authorizations for LNG exports is a step in the right direction and must be expanded to fulfill the COP28 agreement to “transition away from fossil fuels. Instead of bolstering the profits of big oil and gas, the Japan and U.S. partnership should be largely focused on how the world will deliver a just transition to renewable energy.”

Ayumi Fukakusa, the Deputy Executive Director at Friends of the Earth Japan, Japan, adds: “If Prime Minister Kishida truly wants to promote energy security, peace, and prosperity as he claims, he would use the trilateral meeting to help Asia and the US transition to renewables, not double down on dirty fossil fuels like gas.”

“Prime Minister Kishida shamelessly speaks of prosperity even as Japan’s dirty energy turns the climate and entire ecosystems unable to support present and future generations. Such is the case for the Verde Island Passage in the Philippines, where a JBIC-backed LNG terminal now helps wreak havoc on local communities and biodiversity,” said Gerry Arances, Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development in the Philippines.

“Communities in the Philippines and Southeast Asia cannot accept this kind of prosperity when we know we have more than enough renewable energy potential to make a 100% transition away from fossil fuels, whether coal or gas, happen. Japan is obstructing that transition, spending over 5 times more in fossil fuels using public money than in renewables every year. It’s high time for Japan to end its pretense and take on real climate leadership,” said Arances.

When Kishida returns home to Tokyo, it’ll be critical that he recognize that accelerating climate action means transitioning off of fossil fuels to renewable energy. If Japan wants to support a prosperous Indo-Pacific, Japan and the US must end their addiction to fossil fuels and support governments in the region to do the same.