Committed to Climate Advocacy
Kimiko Hirata, 50, is the international director and founding member of the Kiko Network, a Japanese NGO dedicated to halting climate change. She was inspired to become a climate activist in the 1990s, after reading Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance and learning about the dangers of climate change, and quit her job at a publishing house to join the environmental movement. In 1997, she participated in the Kyoto Climate Summit, at which she supported Japanese civil society through advocacy and media engagement. After working on the Kyoto Agreement, Hirata decided to devote her life to addressing the problem of climate change. She is now also a visiting associate professor of the Chiba University of Commerce, which has Japan’s first 100% renewable university initiative.
A Multi-faceted, Collaborative Campaign
Facing a new coal power plant boom, with an onslaught of proposed projects throughout Japan posing major climate risks, Hirata turned to the fight against coal—and launched a sophisticated, multi-pronged, national anti-coal campaign. She set up a team at the Kiko Network, developed a website to track proposed coal plants and inform activists and media, created a network of citizen activists in key sites where coal power projects were proposed, and collaborated with scientists, professors, lawyers, pollution experts, journalists, local community leaders, and other NGOs to raise awareness about the hazards of coal power. Hirata spoke at public hearings and organized community members at proposed coal sites to speak at hearings in their own communities. She succeeded in getting hundreds to turn out at hearings, which is unusual in Japan, where few typically attend such public meetings.
Hirata brought on experts to highlight the risks of coal plant development; working with Greenpeace, she released a report that found that the proposed coal plants would cause more than 1,000 premature deaths annually in Japan, and she enlisted support from the Sustainable Finance Program at Oxford University and the Carbon Tracker to conduct an investment risk analysis for new coal plants.
Hirata also built relationships with anti-coal activists outside of Japan to pressure the country on the international stage, including collaborations with NGOs in the US, Europe, and Asia and with the Climate Action Network, which gave the “Fossil of the Day” award to Japan several times; she also organized protests at COP sessions over multiple years.
The Japanese government and commercial banks are among the world’s largest coal financiers, but Hirata’s anti-coal advocacy forced them to change. She spearheaded a 2020 climate resolution—the first of its kind in Japan—against Mizuho Financial Group, which garnered 34.5% of shareholders’ support and put significant pressure on private banks. Her campaign helped build strong momentum for Japanese companies to move away from coal, and more than 10 Japanese coal plant developers—including Mitsubishi, Itochu, Marubeni, Sojitz, Sumitomo, Mitsui & Co., Mizuho Financial Group, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Cooperation, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, Dai-ichi Life, Nippon Life, and Meiji Yasuda Life—announced that they will no longer develop or finance new coal projects, a significant policy transformation.
In 2019, Hirata’s dedicated efforts finally culminated in the cancellation of 13 planned coal plants. By preventing 7,030 MW worth of coal power plants from being built—nearly 40% of Japan’s planned new coal plant capacity—she averted the emission of 42 million tons of CO2 per year, or more than 1.6 billion tons of CO2 over the lifetimes of the proposed coal power plants.
Hirata’s success is particularly noteworthy in Japan, where NGOs have little power and don’t typically garner respect from government and business leaders. She is also the first female Prize recipient from Japan, a country in which women are notably unrepresented in many sectors.