Climate protest at SNB annual meeting

May 3, 2022|Written by Graham Caswell|Swiss National Bank

Shareholders arriving at last week’s annual general meeting of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) were greeted by climate campaigners calling on the central bank to divest from fossil fuels and align its activities with the Paris Agreement. Activists unfurled a large banner bearing demands that the SNB decarbonise and distributed leaflets outlining the SNB’s continued funding of oil, gas and coal projects.

Organised by Swiss climate group Campax, the protest was part of a series of appeals from civil society groups focusing on the meeting of public and private shareholders, who hold roughly equal amounts of the SNB’s share capital. It was accompanied by an alternative “people’s assembly” in which climate-concerned citizens discussed topics relevant to climate change and Swiss central banking.

Campaigners called for the SNB to disclose its investment positions and associated greenhouse gas emissions, and to communicate its investment strategy to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5ºC trajectory and biodiversity targets. They also demanded a complete and immediate divestment from fossil fuel projects and asked shareholders to actively engage in ensuring that the SNB puts an end to “ecocidal investments”.

The climate crisis was also on the agenda inside the meeting with several stakeholders making critical speeches about the SNB’s contribution to climate change.

“The Swiss National Bank must stop destroying the climate,” said the Divest BNS Vaud group in a statement released alongside the protest. “Despite Switzerland’s climate commitments and the massive amount of capital held by the SNB, the SNB still refuses to adapt its investments to combat the climate crisis.”

Separately, Geneva’s executive council also questioned the SNB on its management of climate and environmental risks. In a letter addressed to the bank council, the Geneva government said it shares the concerns of those calling for greater climate responsibility on the part of the financial sector.

While emphasising respect for the central bank’s independence and mandate, the letter also asked for a summary of climate-related measures taken to date, and requested a plan and timetable for decarbonising the SNB’s assets.

The SNB has been the focus of a series of protests in recent years as a result of its funding of fossil fuel projects. Research shows substantial investment in high-carbon assets by the SNB and the Swiss banking system.

A 2020 study found that SNB investments in the USA and UK alone are the source of almost as the same CO2 emissions as the whole of Switzerland, and that the bank’s portfolio supports global heating of 4-6°C by 2100. Other studies show similar financial support for 4-6°C of warming across the Swiss banking system as a whole.

This page was last updated May 4, 2022

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