Shareholders warn Nippon Steel faces higher decarbonization costs with US Steel takeover

Credit: Nippon Steel

Nippon Steel’s proposed acquisition of US Steel risks raising decarbonization costs for Japan’s top steelmaker, an activist shareholder group said, urging the company to address the takeover’s impact on its climate goals.

Nippon Steel, the world’s fourth biggest steelmaker, last year announced a $15 billion takeover offer for US Steel, which backed the bid, but has faced resistance from a powerful labour union and the White House.

“The potential addition of US Steel’s 11 blast furnaces to Nippon Steel’s operations will almost certainly increase the cost of decarbonization for the company,” Brynn O’Brien, executive director of the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), said.

ACCR, which has less than 1% of Nippon Steel’s shares, has filed shareholder proposals with two other stakeholders, Corporate Action Japan (CAJ) and Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), calling on the company to improve its decarbonization strategy.

Asked about ACCR’s concerns, Nippon Steel said in a statement to Reuters it planned to share technologies related to decarbonization, including hydrogen injection into blast furnaces, with US Steel should the deal close.

“The combination of the technologies developed by Nippon Steel and US Steel to accelerate efforts to become carbon neutral by 2050,” Nippon Steel said without giving details.

The companies plan to close transaction before year-end.

Nippon Steel holds its annual general meeting on June 21.

Not-for-profit organization CAJ wants more information on the company’s carbon emission targets “so that investors including ourselves can make appropriate assessments of risks, including the total cost of decarbonization as a whole group,” Yasunori Takeuchi, CAJ’s chief executive, said in an e-mail.

LGIM did not reply to a Reuters request for a comment.

Shareholder activism on climate change has gained momentum in Japan over the past few years, but has not necessarily led to changes in policy at companies that have already set out emissions reduction plans.

Under plans announced in 2021, before the US Steel bid, Nippon Steel estimated that decarbonization may cost it up to 5.5 trillion yen ($34.8 billion) in capital spending, including research and development, by 2050, with some of the costs to be covered by state support.

“Nippon Steel needs to consider how the acquisition impacts its decarbonization plans, and transparently communicate this,” said O’Brien.

As part of the takeover proposal, Nippon Steel pledged to spend at least $1.4 billion on technology at US Steel’s mills to “produce more advanced and environmentally sustainable steel”.

To help decarbonize, Nippon Steel wants to feed hydrogen into its coking coal-exposed blast furnaces, a process it is testing at a steel site near Tokyo. It also plans to use carbon capture, utilization and storage and add more electric arc furnaces.

($1 = 158.0800 yen)

(By Katya Golubkova; Editing by Sonali Paul and Miral Fahmy)


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