Can big banks and bosses look Greta Thunberg in the eye as they talk the talk on climate change?
- Bankers and company CEOs have signalled a seismic shift in business approaches amid the climate crisis
- But with billions funnelled each year into fossil fuel financing, and no clear targets or plans, worries about “greenwashing” do not seem far-fetched
“The numbers read like Black Monday on the stock market: a 53 per cent loss among grassland birds, a billion birds lost from our forests, 862 million sparrows and 618 million warblers and 440 million blackbirds – all gone.”
But, in the weeks around the UN Climate Change Summit, there is a sense of seismic change occurring.
It called for support to the communities in which businesses work, and to “protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses”.
Despite this radical and potentially significant shift, environmental groups have responded sceptically. Are these just new “greenwashing tools”, like so many of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics being used to burnish companies’ green credentials? What are these commitments going to deliver in concrete terms for people and planet?
Referencing research published in the “Decolonial Atlas”, it names JP Morgan Chase as the world’s No 1 banker of fossil fuels (US$196 billion since 2016), the No 1 banker to the top 100 companies in fossil fuels, the No 1 banker to Arctic Oil and Gas and the No 1 banker to LNG.
Who ever said that our global multinationals could not be hypocritical?
As BankTrack, the banking sector civil society watchdog, noted among 21 other signatories to the Civil Society Statement: “Several PRB signatory banks continue to be significant enablers of the expansion of the fossil fuel industry.”
While JP Morgan was not so brazen as to join the PRB signatories, the group nevertheless includes Citigroup (US$40 billion in funding to the top 100 oil, gas and coal companies in 2016-2018), Barclays (US$24 billion), MUFG (US$25.5 billion) and Mizuho Bank (US$22 billion). JP Morgan lent US$67.4 billion.
Add in HSBC and Standard Chartered, listed as UK banks, and that means six of the biggest funders of fossil fuels are here in China. The four Chinese banks are also listed as the world’s top financiers to coal mining companies.
Alongside pressure on leading global banks to cut their funding to the fossil fuel industry, there is also mounting pressure against subsidies for fossil fuels.
According to the International Monetary Fund in its recent paper, “Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large”, subsidies amounted to US$5.2 trillion in 2017, with China leading the pack (US$1.4 trillion) followed by the US (US$649 billion), Russia (US$551 billion), the European Union (US$289 billion) and India (US$209 billion).
That would have been a significant contribution to restraining global warming, given that the Paris accord requires countries to cut emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.
How can our leading bankers in clear conscience ignore the hypocrisy of present practices? How can they stare Greta Thunberg in the face as she storms: “All you can do is talk about money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you …”
David Dodwell researches and writes about global, regional and Hong Kong challenges from a Hong Kong point of view