Samsung targeted by NGOs for proposal to build coal power station in Vietnam

Famous for innovation in consumer electronics and a progressive approach to sustainability, Samsung has been called out by NGOs for links to the construction of the controversial Vung Ang 2 coal-fired power plant in Vietnam.

Civic society campaign protests against Samsung's proposed construction of the Vung Ang 2 coal-fired power station in Vietnam.
Civic society campaign protests against Samsung's proposed construction of the Vung Ang 2 coal-fired power station in Vietnam. Image: Market Forces

News that electronics giant Samsung’s construction arm could be building a controversial coal-fired power station in Vietnam has surprised environmentalists, and prompted a campaign that highlights the environmental and social impact of the project.

News emerged on Monday (10 August) that Samsung Construction & Trading (C&T) is considering participation in the 1,200 megawatt Vung Ang 2 coal project in Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province.

The proposed plant has been repeatedly targeted by NGOs in recent years for its potential to pollute and exacerbate the climate crisis, and a number of companies including Standard Chartered Bank, OCBC Bank and DBS have withdrawn from Vung Ang 2, citing conflicts with tightened climate policies.

Campaigners have also pointed out that Vung Ang 2 has air pollution standards far lower than those in Korea, which is one of the world’s biggest investors in overseas coal projects. 

A collective of green groups including Greenpeace, Solutions for Our Climate and Market Forces said in a campaign due to run in international media this week that Samsung’s involvement in Vung Ang 2 goes against group-level sustainability pledges, which include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and will tarnish the company’s brand image.

“Innovation is such a big focus for Samsung. It seems odd that a company so focused on building the next new thing wants to build 19th century technology,” Bernadette Maheandiran, a researcher for investments watchdog Market Forces, told Eco-Business.

The campaign launches less than a month after environmental protests prompted Samsung Securities, the conglomerate’s financial investment arm, to withdraw from the Adani Abbot Point coal terminal in Australia. Prostesters had called for a boycott of Samsung products.

Solutions for Our Climate director Sejong Youn pointed out that Samsung C&T’s interest in Vung Ang 2 jars with the Korean government’s “Green New Deal” climate policy announced in March, and also Vietnam’s recent shift away from coal in favour of cleaner energy sources.

pre-feasibility study into the financial viability of Vung Ang 2, released in June, also revealed that the project would generate losses for main investor Korea Electric Power Corp, raising questions about the business sense of the project, which is estimated to cost US$2.24 billion.

But Youn noted that Samsung’s coal exposure is “bigger than you’d think”. 

Samsung C&T is involved in the construction of the Gangreung Anin coal plant, which is expected to be the last coal facility to be built in Korea.

The company was also involved in the early stages of the planned Vung Ang III coal plant, which is now to be developed into a natural gas plant, in line with Vietnam’s plan to replace coal with gas and renewables.

Samsung has not responded to Eco-Business’s request for comment.

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