Climate Week NYC, an annual environmental side-event coinciding with the start of the United Nations General Assembly, is winding down. For several days, venues across Manhattan hosted summits, panels and forums to build up momentum for the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) climate talks, which this year will be held in Marrakesh, Morocco. Climate Week also brings together some of the world’s largest corporations, many of which sponsor the event to showcase their progress on mitigating climate risks.
But Rainforest Action Network (RAN) insists the large multinational banks that sponsored Climate Week are not exactly putting their money where their mouthes are. Instead, RAN claims these banks are plunking their money into fossil fuel projects around the world, which in turn negates any the progress they're making on climate change.
A 2016 report, published by RAN along with partners, reveals the scale of the financial sector’s investments in petroleum, natural gas and coal. From 2013 to 2015, 25 of the world’s largest banks financed almost $800 billion in fossil fuel investments. These banks include Climate Week platinum sponsor Bank of America, affiliate sponsor JPMorgan Chase and supporting sponsor BNP Paribas (which owns Bank of the West).
Juxtaposed against other sponsors, which include SolarCity, the climate advisory EcoAct and the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, the banks’ participation in Climate Week comes across as odd considering their far-reaching investments in the fossil fuels sector.
Climate Week’s banking sponsors are only a few of the world’s largest banks RAN and its partners evaluated in the study. Researchers analyzed the largest banks in the U.S., Canada and Europe, and graded them based on the level of financing within the coal, liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, and extreme oil (as in: tar sands or extreme offshore oil) sectors. RAN, along with BankTrack, Sierra Club and Oil Change International, also evaluated the companies’ disclosures related to human rights.
Grades of a C or lower are the norm in the industry, according to the findings. A B- is rare, and it's worth noting that Bank of America and JPMorgan both received this score. BNP Paribas scored a C+.
The RAN report has its claws out for just about every multinational bank, including Deutsche Bank, the financier behind Blackhawk Mining. The Kentucky-based company became a coal powerhouse this decade by purchasing the assets from struggling coal producers such Arch Coal and Patriot Coal. As a result of $1.3 billion in loans from Deutsche Bank, the company continued mountaintop removal (MTR) mining across Appalachia. RAN says such practices contributed to the destruction of mountains throughout the region, as well as to health problems such as birth defects, cancer and heart disease. Deutsche Bank announced earlier this year that it would no longer underwrite loans for MTR mining projects, but RAN insists plenty of damage has already been done.
But it is platinum sponsor Bank of America that is often called out for what RAN infers as hypocrisy for supporting Climate Week on the one hand yet financing fossil fuel projects with the other. RAN estimates the bank invested as much as $69 billion in oil, gas and coal projects this decade. And the group has a point, especially considering that the company says it has financed $53 billion in “low carbon activities” since 2007.
And this about more than these banks’ contribution to climate change and environmental degradation. As other advocacy groups point out, including the activist investor NGO Ceres, banks’ continued investments in fossil fuels exposes investors to a bevy of risks. And those risks include: stranded assets that stay in the ground as more private companies and governments invest in clean energy technologies; exposure to human rights abuses that can result in backlash against a company operating overseas; and the prospect that conventional energy prices will stay low for a long time.
That turns investments in expensive projects such as tar sands and offshore oil extraction into huge liabilities on a company’s balance sheet, whether it's a financial institution or not.
Image credit: Pete Kraynak/Flickr
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.