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Keeping you in-the-know on environmental, social and governance developments

A new report Banking on Climate Chaos 2024 has been published. The report reflects a definite agenda, breaking down and analyzing its claim that “the 60 biggest banks globally committed $705 B USD to companies conducting business in fossil fuels in 2023, bringing the total since the Paris agreement to $6.9 T.”

The report backs up this headline with statements like these:

“Financing for acquisitions [in the fossil fuel sector] climbed to $63.3 billion in 2023, its highest since 2020, as the oil and gas industry undergoes a wave of consolidations and acquisitions. The big six US banks, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley, are the top 6 financiers of fracked gas activities. The next five companies are Canada and US-based: Royal Bank of Canada, CIBC, US Bancorp, Scotiabank, and Toronto-Dominion Bank…

While 33 banks decreased their financing for companies with fossil fuel exposure from 2022 to 2023, notably, 27 banks bucked that trend and increased their fossil finance commitments in that period. Among these include top ranking JPMorgan Chase, Mizuho, Morgan Stanley, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, and ING Group. For many of these banks – financing for liquefied methane gas (LNG), including fracking, import, export, transport, and gas-fired power – is driving the increase…

Banks continue to prioritize net zero targets, though early research suggests that these targets, like other bank policies, leave loopholes for ongoing fossil fuel finance “

It might be tempting to dismiss this report as NGO fear-mongering, but that may not be prudent. If the data presented is factual, it could be interpreted as conflicting with banks’ public positions on reducing its climate risk exposures. In other words, greenwashing accusations against individual banks may follow – which has actually already begun:

“Barclays has been dubbed ‘totally dishonest’ by one of its investors for calling tens of billions of dollars raised for fossil fuel companies ‘sustainable finance’. An analysis of data from the financial markets group LSEG by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) found Barclays helped raise $41bn in sustainability-linked finance for fossil fuel companies last year.”

But this could be ignoring a hard truth – the transition economy is only just beginning and it will take time. Along with the energy sector, banks are at the forefront and could be viewed as the canary in the coal mine (pun intended). Even those outside the energy industry should watch what happens here – it may inform how others operate and communicate in the initial stages of the transition.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile