Big Banks Go Against Net Zero Pledges

ShareAction, a registered British charity that promotes responsible investment, has claimed that large banks keep funding new oil and gas plants despite their commitment to achieving net zero.

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In a new report, ShareAction pointed to big banks in Europe such as HSBC, Barclays, and Deutsche Bank as the organizations that had betrayed their net zero pledges despite forming part of the Net Zero Banking Alliance led by the United Nations. 

“Net zero” means to balance the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the amount that is removed from the atmosphere. To prevent damaging effects on the environment, the increase in average global temperature has to be kept below 1.5 degrees centigrade. To achieve this, net zero has to be accomplished by 2050. 

The International Energy Agency has stated that as part of the net zero commitment, there should be no new gas and oil plants; yet, banks continue to fund these with billions of dollars. The report mentioned the banks’ statement of wanting to ​​”help their clients to transition away from fossil fuels” but stated that there was “little evidence for this claim.” It added that “Most banks—HSBC included—are not demanding transition plans from clients, raising doubts about their commitment to this transition.”

In 2021, HSBC invested an estimated $8.7 billion into new oil and gas projects, while Barclays invested $4.5 billion and Deutsche Bank loaned out $5.7 billion. In 2021, 24 banks of the Net Zero Banking Alliance put in $33 billion for new oil and gas projects and half the amount came from its founding members: HSBC, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, and BNP Paribas.

Nonetheless, the majority of the banks named in ShareAction’s report responded to the organization’s claims. An HSBC spokesman stated that the bank was “committed to working with our customers to achieve a transition towards a thriving low carbon economy”. The bank promised that its net zero financing plans would be published in its annual report. Likewise, Barclays stated that it “continues to engage with a broad range of stakeholders on climate and sustainability topics. We also have restrictions around the direct financing of new oil and gas exploration projects in the Arctic or financing for companies primarily engaged in oil and gas exploration and production in this region,” the spokeswoman added. Lastly, a Deutsche Bank spokesman said: “Carbon intensive sectors account for only a small share of our loan book and based on publicly available data our lending and underwriting activity in fossil fuels is significantly smaller than global peers… Moreover, our aim is to support all of our customers as we transition to a net zero world.”

Regardless, ShareAction has urged the banks’ investors to hold the groups accountable by ensuring that they request ‘green plans’ from their fossil fuel firms before funding them. 

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