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Bankrolling Climate

“Climate killers”. Photo: BankTrack

“Until now, little was known about banks’ role and responsibility for global warming. While most large commercial banks provide figures on their annual investments into renewable energy, they neither track nor publish their annual investments into fossil fuel projects. Many banks have made far-reaching statements on climate, but are they putting their money where their mouth is?” This is the research question on which a German non-profit group built a study that analyzes direct relations between finance and coal fired carbon intensive power plants. The research conclusions were released at the COP17 in Durban, South Africa.

The study presents new research on the portfolios of 93 of the world’s leading banks. It examines their lending for the coal industry, the prime source of global CO2 emissions. It provides the first comprehensive climate ranking for financial institutions and identifies the top “climate killers” in the banking world.

“By naming and shaming these banks, we hope to set the stage for a race to the top, where banks compete with each other to clean up their portfolios and stop financing investments which are pushing our climate over the brink. We want banks to act and we want them to act now,” authors say.

This study was produced by the environment organization Urgewald from Germany, the social and environmental justice organizations groundWork and Earthlife Africa from South Africa, and the international NGO network BankTrack.

Role and Power of the Finance Sector

Coal-fired power plants are not cheap to build. Typically, a 600 Megawatt plant will cost around US$ 2 billion.4 Power producers therefore rely heavily on banks to provide and mobilize the necessary capital for such ventures. As  much of this financing is indirect – delivered through corporate loans and bonds – banks have for the most part been successful in keeping these investments hidden from public scrutiny.

In order to lift this veil of secrecy and to be able to rank banks according to their negative climate impacts, we commissioned the research institute Profundo to investigate the contributions of 93 large international banks towards financing the coal industry since 2005.


For a “climate killer ranking” of the banks, we did not differentiate between banks’ financing of coal mining and coal-fired electricity production, but instead computed a total based on their financial engagement in both areas. As banks often also hold assets of these companies, the study also included the most recent data (2011) on banks’ asset holdings in these companies.

Profundo reviewed the annual reports of coal mining companies and coal-based energy generation companies, their stock exchange filings and other publications, such as archives of trade magazines and the financial press as well as specialized financial databases such as Thomson ONE and Bloomberg to trace financial transactions between these  companies and commercial banks.

For each financing relationship, an assessment was made which portion of the finance was used for the coal activities of a company (the coal percentage).

In total, the research identified 1405 transactions involving 93 different banks. The total value of coal financing provided by these banks since 2005 (the year the Kyoto Protocol came into force) amounts to 232 billion Euro!

Smokey Findings

How financing for the coal industry has evolved since the Kyoto Protocol came into force? The following graph shows the development of coal finance provided by commercial banks between 2005 and 2010.

Although financing goes up and down from one year to the next, the overall trend shown by the graph is that bank’s investments into the coal sector are on the rise. Even during the financial crisis in 2008, the annual total is still higher than the baseline in 2005. In 2010, financing for the coal industry was almost twice as high as in 2005.

Top Twenty Climate Killer Banks

Together, the top twenty banks in the study’s ranking provided over 171 billion Euros to the coal industry since 2005.

This is 74 percent of the total financing the authors identified. For a full list of finance provided to the coal industry by all 93 banks included in the research, see the online annex at the end of the briefing. The top twenty climate killers include banks from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland, China, Italy and Japan.

Top 20, “climate killer banks”

This ranking is in sharp contrast to the everyday rhetoric of these banks. Almost all of the top twenty banks have made far-reaching statements regarding their commitment to combating climate change. Here are short excerpts compiled from the banks’ individual websites, their environment statements and their Corporate Social Responsibility Reports. They show the complete “disconnect” between banks’ portfolios and their words when it comes to financing coal, the major contributor to climate change.

Cash for Greenwash. Banks’ Climate Commitments

JPMorgan Chase: “Helping the world transition to a low-carbon economy”
Citi: “Most innovative bank in climate change”
Bank of America: “The most formidable challenge we face is global climate change”
Morgan Stanley: “(…)make your life greener and help tackle climate change.”
Barclays: “Managing the climate change risks of our operations and those of our clients”
Deutsche Bank: “Climate change is the dominant environmental issue of our time and one where we can make a significant contribution.”
Royal Bank of Scotland: “As a financial services group our direct impact on the environment in terms of climate change (…) is limited”
BNP Paribas: “A strong commitment to combating climate change”
Credit Suisse: “Credit Suisse cares for climate”
UBS: “Addressing climate change on a global scale will require an unprecedented mobilization of private sector investments”
Goldman Sachs: “Goldman Sachs is very concerned by the threat to our natural environment, to humans and to the economy presented by climate change”
Bank of China: “As a responsible corporate citizen with a global presence, we are committed to responding to the challenge of climate change”
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China: “As an advocate and executor of “green banking”, the Bank is actively advocating a low-carbon way of living”
Credit Agricole: “Combating climate change is central to our strategy”
UniCredit: “The group reiterates its commitment to the achievement of the goals of the Kyoto Protocol in all countries where it has a presence”
Mitsubishi Financial Group: “We will channel our full capabilities into working toward the benefit of the environment and future generations”
Societe Generale: “As a community of 135,000 employees, we are aiming to control and reduce our own carbon footprint”
HSBC: “HSBC adopts a cautious approach to activities which contribute significantly to climate change”

The entire process from mining through combustion to waste disposal has a dire impact on the environment, human health and the social fabric of communities living near mines, power plants and waste areas. It severely disrupts ecosystems and contaminates water supplies. It emits other greenhouse gases like nitrogen oxide and methane as well as toxic chemicals such as mercury and arsenic. It displaces communities and destroys livelihoods. Of course, none of these costs are reflected in the price of coal. All these costs are paid by society – and the heaviest price is often paid by the poor.

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