Central banks become focus of worldwide climate protests

November 1, 2021|Written by David Clarke|Bank of England, Belgian National Bank, Bundesbank, European Central Bank, Federal Reserve

Communities rallied outside central banks around the world on Friday to demand they take immediate steps to address the risks posed by the climate crisis. The Federal Reserve, European Central Bank (ECB) and Bundesbank were among the institutions targeted on the eve of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

Organisers believe this is the first time central banks have been the focus of climate activism on such a global scale, and represents growing public concern that financial regulators are being too slow to exercise the significant powers at their disposal.

The remains of a family car wrecked in this summer’s European floods were deposited outside the National Bank of Belgium (NBB), symbolising the real-world consequences of the finance sector’s polluting investments. The Bank of England was the site of a memorial for the five million people killed by the climate crisis each year, featuring a ceremony led by Pacific Islanders who are on the frontline of the crisis. Gatherings also took place at over a dozen Federal Reserve branches across the US.

The activities formed part of 120 coordinated actions in 26 countries calling on financial institutions including commercial banks and asset managers to stop the flow of funding towards fossil fuels. Youth climate activists Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate were among those taking part, along with Steve Melia, a former Bank of America vice president.

“While fossil fuel companies are obvious culprits of climate destruction, there’s a villain behind the scenes: the financial institutions who support them,” said Melia. “Fossil fuel investments are like the sub-prime mortgages which triggered the global recession in the late 2000s. Their value will collapse at some point in the future – the only thing we can’t predict is when.”

Although those gathering outside central banks were united in calling on regulators to increase the speed and ambition of their efforts to address climate risk, they also addressed specific demands to the institutions in their respective countries.

The groups behind the Belgian action, FairFin and Positive Money Europe, want the NBB to stop buying carbon-intensive bonds via the eurozone-wide Corporate Sector Purchase Programme. They are calling on governor Pierre Wunsch to use his influence as an ECB board member to advocate for an ambitious eurozone-wide climate policy with clear criteria and objectives.

In the US, activists highlighted the Federal Reserve’s slowness to stem high-risk fossil fuel funding amid banks’ support for new tar sands and oil and gas extraction projects. 350.org, which organised the events in conjunction with youth climate leaders, said the issue should be a priority for President Biden when considering who to appoint as Fed chair.

“The window of opportunity to tackle the climate crisis is nearing its close,” said Brooke Harper, 350.org regional strategist. “If Biden is truly the climate president he says he is, we demand he ensure consistent and bold climate legislation and choose a climate chair to head up the Fed.”

This page was last updated November 1, 2021

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