Climate protestors and Swiss National Bank (SNB) shareholders gathered in Zurich on Friday to demand an end to investment in fossil fuel companies by the central bank.
Campaigners from the global north and south gathered along with SNB shareholders at the annual general meeting to protest the bank’s continued financing of oil and gas stock holdings. With over 20 interventions and a dozen speeches, advocates demanded compliance with climate and biodiversity agreements, full capital coverage of environmentally damaging investments, divestment from all fossil fuel assets, and a revision of the bank’s monetary policy strategy.
One major source of outcry has been directed at the SNB’s continued investment in TotalEnergies, in which SNB holds a majority share estimated at over US$620mn. Speakers, including Hilda Nakabuye of Fridays for Future Uganda and Bakara Lenga of GreenFaith International from Tanzania, demanded immediate divestment, citing the highly controversial East African Crude Oil pipeline, which TotalEnergies plans to construct.
The 900-mile pipeline spans from Lake Albert in Uganda to the coast of Tanzania and is expected to pump 1.4bn barrels of crude oil if completed. The company has already drilled over 400 oil wells, including 100 in the middle of the Murchison Falls national park, leading to the displacement of a reported 31,000 individuals.
In a statement, Hilda Nakabuye expressed her concerns, saying: “So many people depend on their land to grow food, and if you can’t grow food, then hunger is next. I call on the SNB Board to stop this destruction of our livelihoods and the entire planet by divesting from TotalEnergies.”
It has been a tumultuous time in Swiss banking in recent months when the long-held reputation for financial stability has been significantly damaged by the collapse of Credit Suisse. The SNB was at the heart of brokering the government-mandated takeover of Credit Suisse by UBS Group last month and has now promised guarantees and liquidity assistance for over CHF200bn.
Maurizio Degiacomi, an economist at Fossil Free, urged the SNB to impose effective sustainability rules on UBS. He cautioned that SNB’s policies “are endangering the future guarantee of price and financial stability… Switzerland can no longer afford to have its national bank talk down risks instead of taking precautionary measures. UBS is a fossil colossus that threatens our livelihood and global financial stability.”
Despite reports suggesting that the SNB’s holdings in the US and UK alone are in line with global heating of 4-6°C by 2100, SNB President Thomas Jordan has downplayed the matter. While there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating how climate change can affect inflation, Jordan insists that the SNB’s investment policy does not have a significant impact on climate change and that it is not the SNB’s responsibility to create ecological structural change in the world economy.
This page was last updated May 2, 2023
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