Before COP26, Mark Carney, who is in charge of wrangling global banks to join his Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA), wrote a piece in the Financial Times about numbers. The NZBA is about getting all the banks together to commit to reducing the emissions that they finance to net-zero by 2050, he said. In this article, Carney said that banks respond to numbers: profit, loss, targets; the climate mission is also about keeping us below a certain number of degrees of heating.
“They’re [financial institutions] disciplined by the hard numbers of the shift to net zero” – Mark Carney
Carney said in the months and years following COP we should judge all financial institutions not by what they say but by the numbers they produce. That’s exactly what we intend to do, one year on from the launch of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero (GFANZ), which includes the banks. The numbers are in, and they are absolutely devastating.
The Rainforest Action Network was joined by six other NGOs to publish annual numbers revealing the level of support that global banks give to fossil fuel companies causing the climate crisis.
Here are some numbers: 60 banks provided $4.6 trillion to companies driving environmental crises. Of these banks, 44 (nearly three-quarters) are committed to Carney’s net-zero goal. Just last year, banks provided $742bn in financing to coal, oil, and gas companies.
The UN, International Energy Agency, and most of the scientific consensus has another important number: zero. The world can afford no new fossil fuel infrastructure if we hope to keep warming below 1.5 degrees. That means no more money for fossil fuel expansion.
Those numbers are easy to ignore for banks that only care about the positive reputation they get from joining climate initiatives led by Carney. They are easy to greenwash with “sustainable investment” numbers the banks tout – where the money often continues to go towards fossil fuel companies doing nothing more than promising green things in the future. .
The numbers that matter are this: banks poured $145.9 billion on clients that are *growing* the coal, oil, and gas industry. They are easy to ignore because they don’t show the suffering, conflict, and destruction that these numbers represent.
Putin’s illegal war on Ukraine is fuelled by these big numbers. The autocrat gets 36% of his budget from the sale of fossil fuels. These banks, directly helping to grow the power of the fossil fuel industry are complicit in war-mongering and global instability. And we’ve got the numbers to show it. The Putin100 campaign is showing how much banks and other mostly Western finance giants are propping up Russian energy companies.
NGOs are writing to Carney and Mike Bloomberg (chair of GFANZ) asking them to tighten the rules and step up.
Even if it’s not out of the goodness of his heart, it’s just good economics. Besides being a very poor investment most of the past decade, fossil fuels are volatile, unstable, and risky. Just look at oil companies BP and Shell which have taken losses on their fossil fuel assets in Russia because of the war. Governments are rapidly speeding up their move towards renewables, making fossil fuels less attractive. Banks that care about not causing the next financial crisis would do well to recognise this.
And shareholders have the chance to force their hand too. This AGM season, the world’s biggest fossil banks including Citi, Credit Suisse, Standard Chartered and others face resolutions to stop funding fossil fuel expansion. Others like Royal Bank of Canada have faced challenges to how they greenwash fossil fuel expansion as “sustainable”. Investors must vote for all resolutions to urgently accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.
Carney ends his FT piece by talking about the need for ‘hard numbers in service of people and planet’. We couldn’t agree more. But at the moment, the numbers the world’s biggest banks are producing don’t add up to a safe and liveable world.