Report: banks continue to finance fossil fuels, despite net-zero promises

April 28, 2023|Written by Ingrid Walker

The world’s biggest banks have provided US$673bn in lending to the fossil fuel industry in 2022, according to a new report. This is despite widespread net-zero commitments and highlights a gap between those commitments and implementation.

The report Banking on Climate Chaos is the 14th annual edition from a coalition of civil society groups and provides the most comprehensive global analysis of fossil fuel banking to date, documenting finance from the 60 largest private banks in the world.

The report reveals that the top five banks in 2022 were North American, with the Royal Bank of Canada in the top spot for the first time, lending US$42.1bn to fossil fuel companies. Since 2016, a quarter of all finance has come from US banks, with US$434bn coming from JPMorgan Chase which is the biggest overall financier in the post-Paris Agreement period.

Endorsed by over 600 organisations in more than 75 countries, the report also exposes what the authors describe as a “troubling gap” between net-zero commitments and affirmative action. It shows that 49 banks with net-zero plans provided 81% of finance to the biggest companies driving fossil fuel expansion.

In 2022, climate-fueled disasters exacted a devastating toll across the world, from record flooding in Pakistan to devastating droughts across the northern hemisphere. Yet the report claims that the oil and gas industry “backslid” on their commitments and failed to direct their record profits towards emissions reductions.

Bar chart showing levels of financing given to fossil fuel companies by various banks in 2022
Graphic © Green Central Banking

Since the Paris Agreement came into force in 2016, banks have lent a total of US$5.5tn to fossil fuel companies. By continuing to fund fossil fuels, the report says, big banks are exposing the financial system to extensive physical risks, volatile prices, and the growing threats of stranded assets and climate litigation, emphasising the urgent need for regulation.

In a press release, Maaike Bens of BankTrack, which helped compile the report, said banks are taking an “irresponsible gamble” with the climate. Paul Schreiber, central banking campaigner at Reclaim Finance, said that “tasked with overseeing these banks, central banks should adopt the proposals on the table to ensure these risks are properly considered in capital obligations”.

According to Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, federal banking regulators must “require banks to phase out fossil fuel finance while ramping up support for clean energy.”

The report also reveals that banks’ exclusion policies frequently leave in loopholes that allow for continued fossil fuel financing through corporate finance and bond underwriting. Only one of the 60 banks, La Banque Postale, has a “robust” policy for excluding fossil fuel expansion. Additionally, to meet net- zero targets, banks are overly reliant on carbon offset mechanisms which have been criticised by climate advocates as a distraction from reducing fossil fuel extraction.

US Democrats have re-introduced a bill that would require the Federal Reserve to bring in policies restricting finance for fossil fuel and deforestation activities. The proposed law would oblige the Fed to force all banks with more than US$50bn in assets to reduce its financed emissions by 50% by 2030.

This page was last updated April 28, 2023

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