By Tetsushi Kajimoto
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese companies overwhelmingly feel Japan should shift away from its dependence on coal for power generation even though a third of firms say this would harm their business, a Reuters poll found, further evidence that the government is out of step with the global fight against climate change.
The monthly Reuters Corporate Survey may augment global pressure on Tokyo to temper its support for coal-fired power stations and the export of Japan's coal technology, as extreme weather conditions from bushfires in Australia to floods in Venice focus attention on climate change.
Japan is in the crosshairs as it seeks both to be recognised as a leader in the climate-change debate but also supports the use of what is widely regarded as a dirty fuel. With limited resources and especially after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the government feels it needs all options and coal is cheap and abundant.
Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi told a United Nations conference last month that global criticism of Japan's "addiction to coal" was hitting home, even as Japan remains a big financier of new coal plants in Southeast Asia and the only G7 nation still building coal plants at home.
In the Reuters survey, 62% of firms urged the government to curb its coal-fired power projects, while 20% said Japan should ditch coal plans altogether. Only 18% said Japan should continue to promote coal-fired power policy.
"We cannot neglect international cooperation against global warming," a manager at an information service company wrote in response to the survey. "Moreover, I believe a resource-poor Japan must shift away from coal-fired power to other energy sources."
A manager at a manufacturer said: "I don't think we should give it up immediately, but Japan must clarify its energy policy in the way that will reduce environmental burdens in the medium to long term."
Backers of coal-fired power argued that a resource-poor Japan has no choice but to stick with coal plans for the time being, the survey showed.
"Critics merely base their argument against coal-fired power on their outdated technology that emits CO2. Such a cry that lacks objective and scientific viewpoints is nothing but 'environmental fascism', which is even dangerous," a wholesaler manager wrote.
More than one-third of Japanese firms said abandoning coal plans would harm their business, raising electricity bills and squeezing profits.
"It could increase electricity costs and sacrifice stability of power supply to a degree, but these can be technically resolved eventually," a machinery maker manager wrote in the survey.
"It would indirectly lead to promotion of nuclear power," a construction company manager wrote.
While 60% saw no impact at all from abandoning coal, the remainder expected it to bring positive effects.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries at its climate talks last month to stop building coal plants after 2020 as part of a wider drive to meet the temperature goals in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet approved a plan last year to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, including support for hydrogen and carbon capture technology, but made no mention of coal financing.
A study by Global Energy Monitor launched at the U.N. conference showed Japan plans to finance $4.8 billion of investment in coal plants in Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
The Reuters Corporate Survey, conducted from Dec. 25 to Jan. 10 for Reuters by Nikkei Research, canvassed 502 big and midsize non-financial companies. Roughly half of them answered questions on coal plans on condition of anonymity to express opinions freely.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)