Environmental shareholder activism comes to Japan as Mizuho faces climate resolution

TOKYO, June 22 (Reuters) - More investors are publicly backing a resolution to curb coal project lending that shareholders of Mizuho Financial Group are expected to consider this week, the first time such a step is to figure at the annual meeting of a Japanese listed company.

As a new front of stakeholder activism opens up in Japan, advisory groups such as the Institutional Shareholder Services group and Glass Lewis, which advise funds worth more than $35 trillion, back the proposal in recommendations seen by Reuters.

If Thursday’s resolution is passed, it could push Japanese banks, one of the last remaining major holdouts on financing coal, to live up to recent commitments to end lending for the dirtiest fossil fuel as climate concerns grow.

“This is a pivotal moment for companies to show their dedication to the future financial and climate-related sustainability of their business models,” said Dewi Dylander of Danish pension fund PKA.

PKA has about $50 billion under management and will vote in favour of the Mizuho resolution, Dylander, the fund’s head of environment, social and governance issues, told Reuters.

Swedish pension fund manager AP7, with $64 billion in assets under management, also supports the resolution, spokesman Mikael Hök told Reuters. It joins three investors who reiterated their support.

Anders Schelde, the chief investor officer at MP Pension, said he hoped investors such as Blackrock would back the move.

Blackrock, which holds about 5% of Mizuho, a stake worth about $1.3 billion), declined to comment.

Ostensibly aimed at getting Mizuho to align its business to goals of the Paris Agreement to counter global warming, the resolution seeks to push the bank to halt backing for coal projects around Asia, a priority for Japan’s government and big business.

Similar shareholder resolutions have succeeded in getting banks to stop financing coal and other fossil fuels and funding is slowly drying up for coal, at least, as the dirtiest and most polluting of such fuels.

But Japanese banks have been among the biggest financiers to coal over the last five years, Refinitiv SDC Platinum says.

In April, Mizuho said it would stop financing new coal power projects, bowing to pressure from investors and NGOs such as Kikonet, a shareholder which is sponsoring the resolution.

Critics have highlighted the many loopholes that mean Mizuho will keep lending to projects in its pipeline and its distant 2050 target to cease lending.

But “in the real world the loopholes are not that big,” said Kimiko Hirata, international director at Kikonet, citing competition from renewables and growing opposition to power derived from coal. ($1=106.8900 yen)

Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Clarence Fernandez