In the five years since the Paris Agreement was adopted, 60 of the world’s largest banks have pumped over $3.8 trillion into the fossil fuel industry.
The disclosure was made in a report, titled “Banking on Climate Chaos 2021” released on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. It is the 12th edition of a comprehensive report on fossil fuel bank financing documents an alarming disconnect between the global scientific consensus on climate change and the continued practices of the world’s largest banks.
The report was authored by Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Reclaim Finance, and Sierra Club, and is endorsed by over 300 organisations from 50 countries around the world.
“Banking on Climate Chaos” names the largest funders of fossil fuels around the world, with JPMorgan Chase the worst overall, RBC the worst in Canada, Barclays the worst in the UK, BNP Paribas worst in the EU, MUFG worst in Japan and Bank of China worst in China.
It also concludes that fossil fuel financing was higher in 2020 than in 2016, a trend that stands in direct opposition to the Agreement’s stated goal of rapidly reducing carbon emissions with the aim to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
The report demonstrates that, even amidst a pandemic-induced economic recession that resulted in an across-the-board reduction of fossil fuel financing of roughly 9%, the world’s 60 largest banks still increased their financing in 2020 to the 100 companies most responsible for fossil fuel expansion by over 10%.
These banks are said to have poured nearly $1.5 trillion over the past five years into 100 top companies expanding fossil fuels. This includes companies behind highly controversial projects like the Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline and the expansion of fracking on the lands of Indigenous Mapuche communities in Argentina’s Patagonia region, which are just two of the nearly 20 case studies featured in the report.
US-based banks continue to be the largest global drivers of emissions in 2020, with JPMorgan Chase remaining the world’s worst fossil bank. Chase recently committed to align its financing with the Paris Agreement and yet continues essentially unrestrained financing of fossil fuels. From 2016 through 2020, Chase’s lending and underwriting activities have provided nearly $317 billion to fossil fuels, fully 33% more than Citi, the next worst fossil bank over this period.
The worst 10 coal power bankers since the Paris Agreement’s adoption were all Chinese, led by Bank of China; the world’s biggest bank, ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China); and China CITIC Bank. Overall funding from the banks in the report to the 30 biggest coal power companies in 2020 fell by 9% from 2019 but remains at a very high level of $39 billion.
The oil and gas sector where banks have made the most policy progress was in the Arctic, by restricting direct financing for projects in the region. Yet JPMorgan Chase, ICBC, China Minsheng Bank, and Barclays remain the biggest funders of companies with major operations in the Arctic since the adoption of the Paris Agreement.
“Facing the prospect of a global recession, investment in coal power infrastructure will become even riskier for borrowing countries and lenders. In the era of the New Development, only by persisting in the continuous improvement of the ecological environment can China truly achieve the development of innovation, coordination, green, open and sharing.
“Only in this way can China build a prosperous, strong, civilized, and harmonious modern power in the middle of this century. It will only be able to do this with the support and the endorsement of major stakeholders in all fields, and state-owned banks like ICBC play a fundamental role in this pathway,” says Yossi Cadan, Global Finance Campaign Manager at 350.org.
The report also examines existing climate policy commitments by banks and finds them grossly insufficient and out of alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement across the board. Recent high profile bank policies focus either on the distant and ill-defined goal of achieving “net zero by 2050”, or on restricting financing for unconventional fossil fuels.
In general, existing bank policies are strongest with regards to restrictions for direct project-related financing. And yet, project-related financing made up only 5% of the total fossil fuel financing analysed in this report.
The authoring organisations behind this report are united in their demand that respect for Indigenous rights, including the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, and human rights more broadly must be a non-negotiable requirement for all bank financing decisions.
Ginger Cassady, Executive Director, Rainforest Action Network, said: “The unprecedented COVID-19 dip in global financing for fossil fuels offers the world’s largest banks a stark choice point going forward; they can decide to lock in the downward trajectory of support for the primary industry driving the climate crisis or they can recklessly snap back to business as usual as the economy recovers. U.S.-based banks continue to be the worst financiers of fossil fuels by a wide margin.
“Going into the Glasgow climate summit at the end of the year, the stakes could not be higher. Wall Street must act now to stop financing fossil expansion and commit to fossil zero, so as to truly align its financing practices with keeping our planet from heating up more than 1.5 degrees.”
Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director, Indigenous Environmental Network: “We must understand that by bankrolling the expansion of oil and gas the top banks of the world have blood on their hands and no amount of greenwashing, carbon markets, unproven techno-fixes, or net-zero commitments can absolve their crimes against humanity and Mother Earth.
“Indigenous lands globally are being plundered, our inherent rights are being violated and the value of our lives has been diminished to nothing in the face of fossil fuel expansion. For the sacredness and the territorial integrity of Mother Earth, these banks must be held accountable for covering the cost of her destruction.”
Ben Cushing, Financial Advocacy Campaign Manager, Sierra Club: “Many of the world’s largest banks, including all six major U.S. banks, have made splashy commitments in recent months to zero-out the climate impact of their financing over the next 30 years. But what matters most is what they’re doing now, and the numbers don’t lie.
“This report separates words from actions, and the picture it paints is alarming: major banks around the world, led by U.S. banks in particular, are fueling climate chaos by dumping trillions of dollars into the fossil fuels that are causing the crisis. Big banks don’t deserve a pat on the back if their 2050 pledges are not paired with meaningful 2021 actions to cut fossil financing.”
Johan Frijns, Director, BankTrack: “As the date of the crucial Glasgow Climate Summit approaches – and god forbid the global corona crisis prevents the world from meeting to address that other, much bigger existential crisis – we witness one bank after another making solemn promises to become ‘net zero by 2050’.
“There exists no pathway towards this laudable goal of a generation away that does not require dealing with bank finance for the fossil fuel industry right here and now, yet too many current promises lack precisely that; a firm commitment to start severing ties with all coal, oil and gas companies that plan on continuing their climate wrecking activities in the years to come.”