SNB targeted by protestors over fossil fuel lending

January 16, 2023|Written by |Swiss National Bank

Climate campaigners protested in front of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) in December to demand an end to the central bank’s investments in fossil fuel companies.

Activists from Swiss organisation Campax released black helium balloons during the SNB’s offices in Zurich. Attached was a banner saying the SNB should not “profit at the expense of the climate”.

Earlier that day, the protesters tried to talk to Thomas Jordan, chairman of the SNB’s governing board, about the bank’s investments in fossil fuel companies. After receiving little response, the protesters returned with the balloons and banner, naming Jordan specifically and demanding that the SNB “stop investing in fossil fuels”. As governing board chair, Jordan is ultimately responsible for the investing decisions of the SNB.

According to Campax, the SNB invests billions in fossil fuel companies, such as Shell, ExxonMobil, and TotalEnergies. A report in 2020 found that the SNB’s holdings in the US and UK alone are in line with global heating of 4-6°C by 2100. If it were a member of the G20, the SNB would rank 11th in Green Central Banking’s Scorecard, above the United States but far behind the Bank of England, European Central Bank, and several EU-member banks.

Earlier this month, climate advocates published two articles in Swiss news outlets, Neue Zürcher Zeitung and Agefi, calling for the SNB to respect global agreements ratified by the Swiss government and use climate-risk indicators in its investment strategy. This followed accusations that the federal government has downplayed the SNB’s climate responsibilities.

Although the SNB’s legal mandate is to ensure price stability while taking due account of economic developments, recent research shows that climate change can affect inflation. One report by the European Central Bank shows that “temperature plays a non-negligible role in driving medium-term price developments”. A report by the Swiss Federal Council notes that climate change does “impact the SNB in the performance of this mandate,” but its efforts have been limited. For example, the SNB has excluded coal mining companies from its portfolio, but has ruled out expanding this policy to other industries.

A 2021 study found that equity owned by the SNB is associated with carbon pollution equivalent to  nearly a quarter of Switzerland’s domestic emissions, generating between 12 and 20mn tons of CO2 per year. According to the report’s authors, a reallocation of just 2% could reduce those emissions by 99.7%.

This page was last updated January 16, 2023

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