New report reveals European banks financing trade of controversial Amazon oil to US

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 12 August 2020

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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A new report released today (12 Aug) details how European banks are financing the trade of controversial oil from the Amazon Sacred Headwaters region in Ecuador to international destinations in the US such as California.

The report, by North America-based environmental organisations Stand.earth and Amazon Watch, also examines how these banks are actively complicit in the impacts of the oil industry on the Amazon rainforest.

This includes oil spills, harm to Indigenous peoples and climate destruction — despite making previous climate and human rights commitments.

Protection from oil spills

The release of the report comes just a week after the Indigenous Federation of United Communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (FCUNAE) – which represents the communities affected by a major oil spill in April — presented a series of lawsuits requesting precautionary measures to protect communities that are in danger from another possible oil spill due to regressive erosion of the Coca River and to guarantee rights protected by the constitution. 

A coalition of Indigenous and human rights organisations also recently launched an emergency global campaign demanding a moratorium on current crude oil production due to recorded contamination and the risk of future spills.

‘Right now, the river is polluted. It affects us a lot, because we nourish ourselves and drink from the river. The [spill] has affected our food supply. Since we live on the banks of the river, we depend on it to survive, especially during this tragic pandemic.

‘People, like my brothers, went fishing and brought back fish, and it had a smell like a pestilence. It was then that we realised there is no way we could consume the fish any more.’

VERÓNICA GREFA
President of the Tocuya Community

19 banks assessed

The top banks detailed in the report are ING Belgium, Credit Suisse, UBS and BNP Paribas (Suisse) SA in Geneva, Switzerland; Natixis in Paris, France and Rabobank in Utrecht, Netherlands. A total of 19 banks were assessed.
 
Since 2009, these banks and other private financial institutions have provided trade financing for approximately 155 million barrels of oil from Ecuador to refineries in the US for a total of $10 billion.

More than 40% of those exports go to refineries in California alone. This oil contained approximately 66 million metric tons of CO2, equivalent to the annual emissions from 17 coal-fired power plants.

Banks’ sustainability pledges

Nearly all of the banks cited in the report have sustainability pledges or commitments to uphold Indigenous rights, as signatories of either the Equator Principles and/or the United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative’s Principles for Responsible Banking.

Several banks have policies specific to the Arctic, including Credit Suisse’s new sustainability initiative, designed to ‘enhance consideration of biodiversity’. Yet the financing of the Amazon oil trade violates the spirit of those commitments.

‘The financing from these banks perpetuates human rights abuses, worsens the climate crisis and further tethers Ecuador’s economy to the boom-and-bust cycles of natural resource extraction.

‘Given the recent oil spill and calls from Indigenous federations in Ecuador for a moratorium on oil extraction, any bank committed to protecting Indigenous rights and the climate should end financing the oil trade from the Amazon Sacred Headwaters until new safeguards and commitments for no expansion are put in place.

‘It’s time for European banks to play a responsible and constructive role in advancing life over profits.’

TYSON MILLER
Forest programme director, Stand.earth

The Amazon Sacred Headwaters

The Amazon Sacred Headwaters is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet and helps regulate essential planetary ecosystem services such as the hydrologic and carbon cycles.

The region is home to more than 500,000 Indigenous peoples from over 20 nationalities, including peoples living in voluntary isolation on their ancestral lands.

New and ongoing oil extraction in the region is a gateway to deforestation and contributes to violations of Indigenous people’s rights.

Indigenous leaders in the region have repeatedly voiced their opposition to the expansion of the oil industry and other industrial activities in their territories.

‘I wonder if the executives of banks in Europe know the real cost of their financing. How can they possibly sleep peacefully knowing their money leaves thousands of Indigenous peoples and communities without water, without food, and in devastating health conditions due to the pollution of the Coca and Napo rivers?

‘It’s time for the banks, companies, and consumers of the oil extracted in the Ecuadorian Amazon to acknowledge how their businesses affect our territories and way of life.’

MARLON VARGAS
President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE)

A toxic legacy

Some impacts of the oil industry on the region include the recent oil spill in Ecuador, ongoing oil spills in Peru, and the toxic legacy of activities by Chevron in the region.

In Ecuador, 120,000 people living in regions near the rivers, including 27,000 Indigenous peoples, have been impacted by the recent oil spill and related floods.

These communities lost their freshwater, livestock and produce, and some have documented skin diseases caused by crude oil from swimming in the rivers before they knew about the spill.

All of these impacts are happening in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, where the communities can no longer take sanitary precautions.

‘The oil industry has a toxic legacy in the Amazon, further exacerbated by recent spills that have contaminated rivers and disrupted the health and food security of Indigenous communities.

‘Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, oil companies continue to pursue expansion, putting Indigenous peoples at even greater risk.

‘These banks cannot claim to uphold their own pledges on climate and human rights while they continue to finance the trade of Amazon oil.’

MOIRA BIRSS
Climate and finance director, Amazon Watch

Banks respond to the report

Several banks named in the report responded to Stand and Amazon Watch and expressed interest in addressing the issues raised in the report. To date, no banks have updated their policies.
 
Rabobank said it no longer finances trades from the Amazon Sacred Headwaters region, but it has not committed to updating its policy.

Natixis pledged to engage with stakeholders like Stand.earth and Amazon Watch in order to update its policy.

UBS and ING Belgium pledged to engage with stakeholders without committing to update their policies.

Credit Suisse acknowledged the importance of the report’s findings but evaded responsibility by saying its policies only apply to project financing.

BNP Paribas (Suisse) SA and Deutsche Bank did not respond.

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