Swiss National Bank targeted by climate groups

April 30, 2021|Written by Graham Caswell|Swiss National Bank

Climate activists dressed as waiters and served glasses of oil outside the headquarters of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) this morning in protest of the central bank’s financial support for emission-intensive activities fuelling the climate crisis. In a press release accompanying the protest, a coalition of climate campaigners demanded that the SNB “immediately dispose of all shares in companies that are involved in the production, trading and processing of fossil fuels; starting with the most polluting tar sands, fracking and arctic oil and gas.” SNB investments in the USA and UK alone are the source of almost as much CO2 emissions as the whole of Switzerland, and the bank’s portfolio supports global warming of 4-6°C by the year 2100.

The protest by Swiss climate group’s Campax, BreakFree and Fossil Free occurred during the SNB’s Annual General Assembly meeting of public and private shareholders, who hold roughly equal amounts of the SNB’s share capital. Although the meeting was held online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, staff and visitors entering the SNB offices were approached by the faux waiters and asked “Would you like a drink of oil?”. The organisations involved said that today’s action was just a “starting shot” and that “numerous campaigns” will be held this year.

Inside the SNB’s shareholder meeting, the climate crisis was also on the agenda. Several stakeholders asked questions about the SNB’s contribution to climate change, and the Vaud and Neuchâtel canton governments submitted resolutions concerning climate risk in the SNB’s investment portfolio. In response, Chairman Thomas Jordan said that the bank’s investment structure considers all risks and reflects the state of the economy, and so the SNB does not need to deviate from market allocation for risk reasons. As the economy transitions away from carbon, so too will the SNB’s portfolio, he said, suggesting that central banks were not bound by the Paris Agreement because it was signed by governments. While Jordan said that climate risk is taken seriously by the SNB, he offered no details or new information.

The protest at today’s SNB meeting follows the presentation on Wednesday of a petition of 14,000 signatures calling for the SNB to end all investments in fossil fuels. Organised by development organisations Fastenopfer and Bread for All, the petition demanded climate justice for people in the Global South who have contributed the least to climate change, and called continuing high emissions “a violation of human rights.

Commenting on the demands of the Swiss activists, Positive Money economist David Barmes said that the SNB must urgently wind down financial support for emission-intensive activities to align itself with Switzerland’s climate goals. “Recent research shows that compared to G20 countries, the SNB and FINMA score lower on green initiatives than their European counterparts in Germany, Italy, and France,” said Barnes, author of the recent green central banking scorecard. “The SNB is failing to take sufficient action to green its balance sheet and the financial system it oversees. This is particularly worrying due to the sheer size of the SNB’s portfolio and its systemic importance in the global economy.”

This page was last updated May 3, 2021

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