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Our ‘big fossil banks’

UK banks finance the coal industry with £25 billion ‘life support
Our big fossil banks

Barclays, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Royal Bank of Scotland have collectively supported the global coal industry with financing worth almost £25 billion since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, new data shared with Greenpeace UK’s investigative journalism unit, Unearthed, reveals.

The data, gathered by Urgewald and BankTrack, show that the four UK banks have financed companies with plans to build new coal plants with $31.8bn or £24.7bn between 2016 and 30 September 2019.

‘Desperate and dirty funding’

In 2015 at the UN climate conference in Paris, world leaders committed to keeping global temperatures well below 2 degrees celsius. As part of this, they signed an agreement that included a commitment to make ‘finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development’.

Since then, and despite these pledges, HSBC has provided £8.4 billion in financial support to companies building new coal plants. This consisted of £2.1bn of loans and £6.1bn of underwriting.

Standard Chartered and Barclays provided £7.4 billion and £7 billion respectively, while state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland supported global coal growth with £1.8 billion.

‘The coal industry should be on its deathbed, but is being kept alive only by desperate and dirty funding from banks such as Barclays and HSBC. The UK is clearly failing in its commitment to tackle the climate crisis by allowing its banks to finance the expansion of the dirtiest, most polluting fossil fuel industry to the tune of tens of billions of pounds.

‘Bankrolling the expansion of coal-fired power generation is indefensible – but this £25 billion is dwarfed by the hundreds of billions that banks invest in oil and gas. Behind every coal mine and every oil and gas pipeline is a bank supplying the financial lifeline. It’s time to pull the plug.

‘By funding the climate emergency, UK banks aren’t just adding fuel to an existential catastrophe, they’re also building up a financial crisis that we’re all going to have to pay for – just as they did in 2008. Banks aren’t blind to the economic turmoil that will result from their continued funding of fossil fuels. They know exactly how this ends.’

Head of Greenpeace UK’s climate emergency campaign

Banks and the climate emergency

The role of banks in driving the climate emergency has come under increasing scrutiny over the last year. In the UK, the issue is of particular concern given British banks’ global influence: the UK banking sector is the largest in Europe and the fourth largest in the world.

The findings from this research come just two months after Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and newly appointed United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance, warned that the global financial system is backing projects that will raise the temperature of the planet by more than 4C, far above the 2C limit pledged in the Paris agreement.

‘There is consensus now from major international institutions such as the UN and the International Energy Agency that any new coal plant fired up after 2020 will undermine the Paris Agreement climate targets.

‘One year out from the UK’s hosting of the UN Climate Summit, if Barclays, HSBC and Standard Chartered don’t act rapidly to rein in their financing of coal expansion companies, the UK government should take steps or risk turning up in Glasgow with coal dust on their faces thanks to our big fossil banks.

‘Compared to their European counterparts, UK banks have stubbornly failed for several years to adequately respond to the worsening climate emergency by introducing policy restrictions to significantly curb their sponsoring of coal expansion around the world. Cosmetic policy tweaks no longer cut it.’

Coal campaigner at BankTrack

‘Stop funding climate change’

Greenpeace is calling on all UK banks to stop funding climate change by immediately ending funding for fossil fuel expansion and to align their lending with 1.5 degrees, the goal of the Paris Agreement.

This would slow the expansion of polluting industries, provide a boost to green industries and enable the transition away from fossil fuels.

The data, gathered from financial databases at Bloomberg and Refinitiv and from company reporting, are part of a bigger report that Urgewald and BankTrack plan to publish on the financing of new coal plants globally on 09 December 2019. They shared the UK information with Unearthed in advance of the final report.

It is based on Urgewald’s list of 258 companies with known coal plant expansion plans, 52 of which received financial support from UK banks.

Click here to find out why Lily Cole thinks about banks and the climate emergency.

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