Japanese Environment Minister opposes Vietnam coal-fired project involving Japan firm

Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi speaks to reporters at the venue of the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Madrid, on Dec. 15, 2019. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi expressed opposition Tuesday to the planned construction of a coal-fired power plant in Vietnam involving a major Japanese trading firm, saying it is at odds with measures to mitigate global warming and subject to international criticism.

“This (project) is not something we can get the understanding of Japanese citizens or the international community for,” Koizumi said at a press conference, although he has no power to stop the plan.

Despite mounting international criticism, Japan has been promoting coal-fired power projects at home and abroad, and providing backing for projects in developing countries.

The minister cast doubts over this policy and expressed his willingness to discuss it with other ministries.

A Mitsubishi Corp. subsidiary has led a coal-fired power project known as “Vung Ang 2” in the Vietnamese province of Ha Tinh, with the government-linked Japan Bank for International Cooperation and major Japanese banks also considering financing the project.

But China Energy Engineering Group Guangdong Power Engineering Co., known as Energy China GPEC, and General Electric Co. of the United States have been selected as contractors for the project to build two units with a generating capacity of 1.2 million kilowatts.

Tokyo’s infrastructure export strategy stipulates that Japan will “in principle provide aid to install cutting-edge power generation facilities upon requests from countries as long as they are compelled to choose coal as their source of energy.”

But with the Vietnamese plant to be constructed by Chinese and American companies, Koizumi said it is not in line with Japan’s policy of promoting its highly efficient coal-fired power generation technology.

“It is nonsense that Japan is funding (the project), yet at the end of day China and the United States are the ones building it,” Koizumi said, as he questioned the reasoning that Japan has to be involved to prevent China from dominating the industry.

Tokyo maintains coal is a cost-effective power generation solution, and that new technology installed in place of aging, less efficient power stations can help countries reduce their overall emissions.

“We can’t comment on individual projects, but with the exception of those already started, we are not initiating new coal-fired power projects,” a Mitsubishi Corp. representative said.

Meanwhile, five environmental groups including the Japan unit of Friends of the Earth International and Kiko Network welcomed Koizumi’s questioning of the government policy on coal-fired power projects in developing countries.

“The Japanese government and the private sector should decide on withdrawing from new coal-fired projects as soon as possible,” the groups said in a statement. “The time has come to seriously consider how to close down existing plants and make decarbonization a reality.”

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