Bank of England target of climate hoax

December 7, 2020|Written by Hilal Atici|Bank of England

The Bank of England (BoE) was targeted on Monday by climate activists using a hoax website and press release that purported to announce the bank’s divestment from bonds issued by companies with high exposure to oil and coal.

Responsibility for the hoax was claimed by the Yes Men, a US-based group of activist pranksters whose past targets include Exxon, BP, Shell and the Bank of America. “We wanted to show how it would feel – even for a split second – if a central bank took steps to protect against climate calamity,” said group spokesman Jeff Walburn.

Posted on a highly realistic clone of the BoE’s website, the press release was written in the terse, technocratic style favoured by central banks and referenced the BoE’s June climate-related financial disclosure, which found the projected emissions performance of its Asset Purchase Facility (APF) corporate portfolio consistent with 3.5°C of warming by the end of the century. “The Bank is updating the eligibility criteria of corporate bonds, starting with the exclusion of those which are most exposed to climate risk,” the fake release read. “By 2030 the Bank will aim to maintain a portfolio of bonds consistent with temperature warming of 1.5°C.” 

The hoax also included another fake “press advisory” on another copy of the BoE’s website and a fake statement from the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), purporting to welcome the BoE’s (fake) decision. 

Although the pranksters call themselves “laughtivists”, the (real) BoE did not find the tactic funny. “The Bank investigates any such mis-use of its name and will consider further legal options to require groups which so mis-use it to cease and desist,” it announced. “The Bank has engaged with media organisations which reported on these announcements, which have retracted the false reports.” But while that might have stopped the hoax, it didn’t stop the story about the hoax from spreading and highlighting the gap between the bank’s words and its actions.

The Yes Men’s action comes as the BoE is actively considering the very measures the hoax describes. On September 23, BoE Executive Director Sarah Breeden told the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee that the bank will discuss adding a green element to its mandate with the UK Treasury. This was confirmed by fellow Executive Director Andrew Hauser in a speech to the Investment Association on October 16th. “Subject to the government indicating a willingness to update this remit, we will over the coming year be considering how to incorporate climate factors into decisions on the mix of financial assets, while still achieving our policy aims,” he said.

The Treasury’s November announcement of mandatory TCFD climate risk disclosure will make that proposed new remit much easier to fulfil, as the climate risks of bond issuers become more visible to the BoE. However with full implementation not scheduled until 2025, it’s probably not going happen as quickly as the Yes Men – and many other climate campaigners – would like.

This page was last updated April 23, 2021

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