Despite pledges to make the Olympics more “sustainable”, the Games starting in Tokyo this 23rd of July are sponsored by three coal finance giants: banks Mizuho Financial and SMBC and insurer Tokio Marine. Japan is not just playing host to the Olympic Games – it’s also home to the biggest coal bankers and insurers in the world who have still not committed to quitting coal.

Mizuho and SMBC, sponsoring the Olympics AND the coal industry

According to the latest financial data published last February on the Global Coal Exit List website, Mizuho and SMBC are the second and sixth biggest bankers of the coal industry. Mizuho’s new coal policy still potentially allows for the direct financing of new coal plants and existing thermal coal mines. In doing so, Mizuho is refusing to join the group of 49 banks and insurers that abide by the “no new coal policy” principle. In fact, over 2018-2020, Mizuho channeled 24 billion dollars to coal developers such as China Huadian, a company planning more than 15 GW in coal-fired electricity across Asia and Africa.

Although SMBC’s updated policy looks good on paper, Japanese NGOs have been told there will be room for exceptions. These exceptions could prove costly for the climate as all new coal projects are incompatible with the 1.5°C (or even 2°C) goal. Over 2018-2020, according to the financial data on the GCEL website, SMBC channeled 27 billion dollars to 36 coal developers, including PLN, a company planning to build 10 more GW of coal capacity in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, this coal addiction is not limited to these Olympic sponsors. Japanese megabank MUFG (Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group), the fifth biggest bank in the world according to S&P, was also the largest banker of coal power outside of China between 2016 and 2020. MUFG is also supporting coal expansion: out of the $36 billion of financing supporting the coal industry between October 2018 and October 2020, more than half of this support was channeled to coal developers. Unfortunately, its coal policy continues to fail to exclude companies developing new coal projects and includes no commitment to phase out coal finance at the corporate level.

Tokio Marine, losing the race against climate change

Another big sponsor of the Olympic Games AND coal is Tokio Marine Holdings. Based in Japan and with over 200 subsidiaries around the world, Tokio Marine stands out as one of the top 10 insurers of coal, oil and gas globally. A very long way from a podium finish: publishing a TCFD report and abiding by the UNEP Principles for Sustainable Insurance (PSI) will not help to phase down the massive support to the fossil fuel industry, let alone coal. In September 2020, the insurer adopted a coal policy but with loopholes large enough to effectively allow them to provide coverage for any new coal plant still planned around the world. Tokio Marine can still insure new coal mines, new coal infrastructure, as well as certain new coal power plants. Even MS&AD, Tokio Marine’s national competitor criticised for its weak coal policy, has committed to end coverage to all new coal plant projects. The insurer also lags behind many of its European peers that have ruled out (as soon as 2017 for the kickstarters) coverage to any new coal projects and companies developing them.

Contrary to 19 global insurers, including Tokio Marine branch TMK, Tokio Marine Holding has not ruled out coverage by its 200 subsidiaries for Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in Australia and Godda coal project in India, despite ongoing local opposition and international outcry. There is also a risk that Tokio Marine could support other coal projects involving other Japanese players such as the Matarbari Coal Power Projects (Phase I and II) in Bangladesh or the Vung Ang II coal project in Vietnam.

The Coal Policy Tool’s assessment of the coal policies of Japan’s major coal banks and insurers

While athletes race to win the Olympics, the Japanese financial sector should be getting ready for another kind of race: one against climate change, with a finish line to cross by COP26. Glasgow will be hosting the biggest climate summit since the Paris Climate Agreement and expecting new pledges from the private finance sector. Will the Japanese finance sector seize this opportunity to champion the end of coal ?