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Activists have targeted the French owner of the Hazelwood brown-coal power station for its sponsorship of the Paris climate summit, calling on it to accelerate plans for the plant's closure in the spirit of the negotiations to tackle global warming...

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The 45-year-old power plant in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria is one of the most carbon-intensive in the world and has been the focus of a decade-long environmental campaign to shut it down.

It has become even more notorious since a 45-day mine fire in 2014 that shrouded the town of Morwell in smoke and ash, an event that might still see the plant hit with environmental charges.

The owners of the Hazelwood brown-coal power plant are a major sponsor of the Paris climate talks.

The owners of the Hazelwood brown-coal power plant are a major sponsor of the Paris climate talks. Photo: Justin McManus

The plant's majority owner, the power company Engie, is one of the main business sponsors of the Paris talks. Engie is partially owned by the French government and still called by its old name in Australia, GDF Suez.

An Engie stand in the French government pavilion at the Paris climate summit.

An Engie stand in the French government pavilion at the Paris climate summit. Photo: Tom Arup

Engie's sponsorship of the Paris talks, along with that of other major corporations with large fossil-fuel interests, has attracted attention at home and abroad, with activists claiming the companies are engaging in "green washing" by backing the climate summit.

A study by the US-based Corporate Accountability International, released in the weeks ahead of the Paris summit, pointed out Engie's global operations, which includes 30 coal plants, released more greenhouse gas emissions than whole countries such as Greece, Austria and Belgium.

"Inviting some of the world's biggest polluters to pay for the [Paris climate summit] is akin to hiring a fox to guard a hen house," the executive director of Corporate Accountability International, Patti Lynn, said at the time of the report's release.

In Australia, environmentalists have also zeroed in on Engie's role at the Paris summit.

Six green groups, including Environment Victoria, 350.org and Greenpeace, wrote to Engie and to French President François Hollande in November urging them to announce at the Paris talks a plan to accelerate the closure of Hazelwood, which is responsible for nearly 3 per cent of Australia's total emissions.

There are also 800 postcards addressed to Mr Hollande and signed by Environment Victoria members on their way to the French capital.

A postcard from Environment Victoria supporters being sent to the French President calling for the closure of Hazelwood.

The postcard Environment Victoria supporters have sent to the French President calling for the closure of Hazelwood. Photo: Environment Victoria

"We believe there is a clear opportunity for the French government and Engie to show international leadership on the phase-out of inefficient power stations," the groups wrote to Mr Hollande.

Engie has already announced it will not be investing in any new coal power plants.

Speaking at the Paris climate summit on Friday, Engie chief executive Gerard Mestrallet said the company wanted to "lead the energy transition to a low-carbon economy".

"We are at a turning point. We are holding the future of our children and planet in our hands," he said.

When asked whether Engie had any plans for its existing coal assets, particularly Hazelwood, Mr Mestrallet said about 15 per cent cent of the company's assets were coal-based, lower than the global average of 40 per cent.

That proportion would fall, because of new Engie investments in renewable energy technologies.

"In the future, we do not exclude to reduce the present portfolio of coal that we have in the world," he said.

Exactly how much Engie has committed to running the Paris talks has not been revealed. About $25 million, representing about 10 per cent of the total cost of holding the summit, has been raised in corporate sponsorship so far, according to campaigners.

Fairfax Media is a partner of the United Nations Foundation.

December 7, 2015 - 5:11PM
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