Kimiko Hirata tackles coal

The impact of the tsunami did not end there. At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the country’s Fukushima prefecture, waves passed the plant’s dike and flooded its reactors. Nuclear fusions followed, along with hydrogen explosions and radiation contamination. Authorities evacuated the area, shut down the plant and soon shut down all nuclear power plants across the country, essentially cutting off Japan’s energy supply, which was heavily dependent on nuclear power.

During the tsunami tragedy, Hirata, who was safe from destruction, failed to realize that the ensuing energy crisis would mark a pivotal moment in her career as a climate activist – a time that forced her to focus her efforts on coal. the industry which rushed to take the place of nuclear power. By 2015, 50 new coal-fired power plants had been proposed across Japan. While policymakers viewed coal-fired power plants as safer and more reliable sources of energy, Hirata saw them as a step back from the country’s previous climate goals. She therefore mobilized a team and made a commitment to stop them.

At the time, Hirata had already served as the international director of the non-profit environmental network Kiko for more than a decade. Much of his work stems from his long-standing commitment to advancing Japan’s climate agenda.

Born in Kumamoto on one of the southern islands of Japan, Hirata discovered her interest in climate change as a student in Tokyo in the 1990s. Like many others at the time, she made the headlines. newspapers as UN delegates began discussing a set of emissions targets that would eventually be known as the Kyoto Protocol.

After school, Hirata found a job in publishing, but she was never able to “ignore the issue” of climate change. “I felt like I wanted to do something. I wanted to devote my time to solving this problem, ”she says. So she traveled to Washington DC to intern at the Climate Institute, volunteer with the National Wildlife Federation, and work her way through the DC nonprofit sector. Her goal: she wanted to learn all she could about running non-profit organizations to bring him back to Japan. “Someone has to take on that role,” she said, “so I thought I’d be the one to do it.”

Returning to Japan, Hirata became a founding member of the Kiko Forum, a citizens’ forum held for a year before the 1997 meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Kyoto. After the Kyoto Protocol was signed, Hirata and other members of the Kiko Forum formed the Kiko Network to hold Japan accountable for its carbon emissions targets, while pushing for climate taxes and other climate policies. progressive.

But it turned out to be a difficult task. “We were totally outside the policy-making process,” says Hirata. “We hit a series of obstacles.” In 2009, for example, Hirata led a massive campaign to pass a climate change law in Japan modeled on the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act, which set a legally binding emissions target. She signed petitions and mobilized hundreds of local and university leaders to support him. But the campaign failed. “I tried to get something out of my continuous efforts, but it was really difficult,” she says.

The tsunami marks a clear before and after for Hirata. In the aftermath of Fukushima, increased investment in coal prompted Hirata to refocus on the fight against coal. Her first step: She scoured newspapers, government and industry documents, and made a list of all the coal-fired power plants on offer. She then mobilized a team of experts and environmentalists – including members of Greenpeace and researchers from Oxford and Harvard universities – and conducted an investment and public health risk assessment for the new factories. From these reports, she concluded that the proposed coal plants would cause more than 1,000 premature deaths each year.

About Eleanor Blackburn

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