Thirty-three global banks invested a combined $1.9 trillion in fossil fuel companies since 2015 — the year nations negotiated the Paris climate accord — according to a report released today by groups including the Sierra Club and Honor the Earth.
The annual “report card” on bank investments in fossil fuels serves as a “red alert,” according to Alison Kirsch, climate and energy lead researcher at the Rainforest Action Network, which also helped produce the report.
The report’s authors claim that, collectively, banks are dropping huge amounts into the fossil fuel industry, even as they promise investments in sustainability and “clean financing.”
A report released in October by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and authored by 91 experts found that meeting a target of 1.5° C requires annual average investments in energy at $2.38 trillion. That sum, which would mostly fund technologies like energy efficiency, solar, wind, nuclear, and carbon capture and storage, just overshoots what banks are currently investing in fossil fuels.
Of all the banks the groups analyzed, the report ranked JPMorgan Chase as the top investor in fossil fuels “by a wide margin.” According to the findings, JPMorgan Chase invested about $195.7 billion in fossil fuels between 2016 and 2018 while Wells Fargo, which ranked second, invested about $151.6 million. Four of the top five investors were banks based in the U.S.
Authors of the report say the results, which use data compiled from sources including Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Rystad Energy AS, is particularly egregious because many of these banks pledge support for climate action.
JPMorgan Chase’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, has expressed disagreement with the Trump administration on its bid to leave the Paris climate agreement (although he’s not so sold on the Green New Deal). Ahead of the Paris climate summit, where the agreement was drafted, the bank also signed onto a statement that called for a “strong global climate agreement” along with Citi, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.
“As major financial institutions, working with clients and customers around the globe, we have the business opportunity to build a more sustainable, low-carbon economy and the ability to help manage and mitigate these climate-related risks,” the statement reads.
In recent years, banks have continued to demonstrate interest in climate-related finance. The report card comes on the heels of a meeting in Paris organized by groups including the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council to spur the development of green banks, which are financial institutions or funds that focus on low-carbon projects, in emerging markets.
The summit’s goal was to connect representatives from the 25 participating developing countries, including Uganda, Mexico and Vietnam, with experts and financial institutions that could help develop green banks to invest in technologies like clean energy.
Angela Whitney, a manager of global climate finance at RMI who leads the organization’s work on green banks, said interest in green banks from developing countries “wasn’t being met with a lot of resources.” Summit organizers contend that bringing financial institutions and country representatives together could help link the two and alleviate some of the risk investors feel about entering new low-carbon markets.
“There is a real hunger for new technologies in new markets. I think a lot of the folks who will be there are really earnestly trying to find new ways to invest in energy,” said Whitney ahead of the summit. “I think they see [green banks] as one of those new ways.”
Several banks ranked in the fossil fuel report card, including U.K.-based HSBC, Japan-based Mizuho and French Crédit Agricole, participated in the Green Banks Design Summit. In the report card released this week, Mizuho ranked tenth among the 33 banks for total investments in fossil fuels. HSBC ranked No. 13 and Crédit Agricole ranked No. 24.
Though that group hardly rivals the top banks investing in fossil fuels, according to the scorecard, their involvement at the summit paired with their continued investment in fossil fuels demonstrate the dueling priorities of financial institutions. While banks claim a commitment to climate action, they’re also continuing to fund the resources that fuel it.
JPMorgan Chase, for instance, has a corporate target to power offices and operations with 100 percent renewables by 2020. In 2017, the bank pledged $200 billion in “clean financing” by 2025, which would include funding renewables projects. HSBC has also committed to using 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030. In 2018, the bank announced a move away from financing new coal plants, and in 2017 the company promised to invest $100 billion by 2025 in low-carbon technology and sustainable development.
HSBC, Crédit Agricole and Mizuho did not respond to requests for comment on how investing in fossil fuels as well as green bank projects, which are by definition sustainable, might fit within their corporate strategies.
But Kirsch, the climate and energy research at Rainforest Action Network, said the continued investment in fossil fuels “is flatly incompatible with a livable future.”