picture of mark carney

The co-chair of the world’s largest “green alliance” of banks, Mark Carney, has tried to put a brave face on the failings of banks in addressing the climate crisis. But during cross-examination at the UK parliament’s environmental audit committee this week, the cracks showed.

During the grilling, the head of the green banking alliance (known as the NZBA) was forced to admit that US banks are lagging behind others when it comes to tracking the billions they’re lending to fossil fuel companies and developing plans to stop bankrolling them.

Astonishingly, Carney refused to accept that banks continuing to fund the expansion of fossil fuels ran contrary to the commitments, stating “that’s what it takes to keep the lights on”. In truth, scientists and energy economists agree that there can be no new coal, oil or gas if we are to stay within safe planetary limits.

He even found himself under scrutiny for his personal interests when questioned about continued fossil fuel investments by Brookfield Asset Management, where is the vice-chair. Brookfield is invested in a shipping company that provides services to oil extractors. Labour MP Clive Lewis questioned the principle of a climate leader being invested in a company that could benefit from new fossil fuel extraction.

Despite Carney’s protestations at the committee, the evidence shows that banks, even those supposedly committed to ‘net-zero’, continue to fund fossil fuel expansion. So here is an uncomfortable fact:

15 of the top 50 bankers of coal expansion are members of the NZBA. In total, $202 billion in funding was provided to developers of new coal projects by 46 NZBA members from 2019 to 2021.

The truth is that the world does not need an apologist for the banks. It needs leaders who will step up and demand immediate change.

Banks like HSBC, Citi and the Royal Bank of Canada are ploughing cash into fossil fuels and they’re standing in the way of the vital change that the world needs to address climate change. HSBC has just been told off and had its ads banned after findings of greenwashing by a major regulator. RBC is now being investigated for the same thing. Carney needs to be careful not to let his alliance become a way for the banks to pretend they’re sustainable and greenwash their credentials.

Mark Carney should be tightening the conditions for being a member of his net-zero alliances under NZBA, not loosening them. It’s encouraging that he does concede that banks do need policies that restrict financing for coal, oil, gas, and deforestation-linked companies. But he must stop making excuses for their dismal record. He should stop pandering to a cohort of banks drunk on the profits from fossil fuels and demand that they meet their commitments. There’s more than just his reputation at stake.