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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact

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JPMorgan Chase building in New York City. Ben Sutherland / CC BY 2.0

By Sharon Kelly

A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.


The top four banks that invested most heavily in fossil fuel projects are all based in the U.S., and include JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America. Royal Bank of Canada, Barclays in Europe, Japan's MUFG, TD Bank, Scotiabank and Mizuho make up the remainder of the top 10.

This report comes as March has already brought deadly weather to places such as the American Midwest, where historic flooding has left four dead and farm losses could reach $1 billion, and Mozambique, where Tropical Cyclone Idai has devastated the East African country and President Filipe Nyusi estimated that more than a thousand people are likely dead.

Both disasters have been linked to climate change. "Increased flooding is one of the clearest signals of a changing climate," said 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben in a statement published by ThinkProgress, adding that flooded Nebraska's "current trauma is part of everyone's future."

Nebraska National Guard

"One inescapable finding of this report is that JPMorgan Chase is very clearly the world's worst banker of climate change," the report, titled "Banking on Climate Change," found. "The race was not even close: the $196 billion the bank poured into fossil fuels between 2016 and 2018 is nearly a third higher than the second-worst bank, Wells Fargo."

A half-dozen environmental groups — Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Sierra Club, Oil Change International, Indigenous Environmental Network and Honor the Earth — authored the 2019 report, which was endorsed by 160 organizations worldwide. It tracked the financing for 1,800 companies involved in extracting, transporting, burning, or storing fossil fuels or fossil-generated electricity and examined the roles played by banks worldwide.

Global Snapshot of Fossil Fuel Sector Finance

Total fossil fuel financing, in billions of U.S. dollars, by bank and year, 2016-2018.

Banking on Climate Change 2019 Report

Past report cards by the groups have focused only on coal, or on "extreme" fossil fuel projects, like tar sands extraction, ultra-deepwater oil drilling, and coal mining, and power generation. 2019's report card expands, for the first time, to cover the fossil fuel sector as a whole.

This year's report card also dived deep into lending to shale oil and gas companies for the first time, finding that Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase "are the biggest bankers of fracking overall — and, in particular, they support key companies active in the Permian Basin, the epicenter of the climate-threatening global surge of oil and gas production."

JPMorgan Chase also provided the most financing to LNG projects, Arctic oil and gas projects, and ultra-deep-water oil and gas extraction, the report concluded. The Royal Bank of Canada topped the list on tar sands oil financing.

"Coal mining finance is dominated by the four major Chinese banks, led by China Construction Bank and Bank of China," the 2019 report found, adding that Bank of China provided the most financing to coal power projects as well.

On March 19, China's State Development & Investment Corp., listed as one of the report's top coal power companies, reportedly confirmed that it would stop investing in thermal coal power plants three years ahead of schedule.

"Since the Paris Agreement, JPMorgan Chase has provided $196 billion in finance for fossil fuels," the groups wrote, "10 percent of all fossil fuel finance from the 33 major global banks."

A JPMorgan Chase spokesperson declined to comment.

In 2017, JPMorgan Chase pledged to "facilitate $200 billon in clean financing through 2025," adding that it had helped finance $18 billion of wind, solar, and geothermal projects between 2003 and 2017.

Barclays, which offered a total of $109 billion for fossil fuel projects, topped the 2019 report's list of "worst in Europe," followed by HSBC, with $77 billion in financing.

More Money for Fossil Fuels Since Paris Agreement

All told, financial backing for fossil fuel projects has grown, not shrunk, each year since the Paris agreement, the report found. Banks provided $612 billion for fossil projects in 2016, $646 billion in 2017, and $654 billion in 2018.

That's despite the fact that Article 2 of the Paris agreement calls for "[m]aking finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development" — and in the run-up to Paris, major banks positioned themselves as supporting a strong global response to climate change.

"Scientific research finds that an increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is warming the planet, posing significant risks to the prosperity and growth of the global economy," JPMorgan Chase Bank, Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo, Citibank, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley wrote in a 2015 statement. "As major financial institutions, working with clients and customers around the globe, we have the business opportunity to build a more sustainable, low-carbon economy and the ability to help manage and mitigate these climate-related risks."

In 2017, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon told CNBC that he opposed President Trump's plan to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement.

Guerrilla street painting against fossil fuel pipeline investment outside Wells Fargo World Headquarters in San Francisco, Nov. 6, 2017.

Peg Hunter /Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Activist pressure campaigns focused on individual banks have recently claimed successes. This week, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo both announced plans to stop financing private prisons, which Moody's Investment Services said in a comment "builds on the trend of negative publicity and uncertainty prevalent in the sector."

The past year has brought increasing awareness of climate-related risks in some financial circles — but banks headquartered in the U.S. and Canada have lagged behind.

"According to a survey conducted by Boston Common Asset Management in 2018, European banks are far ahead of large banks in the U.S. and Canada in implementing climate-related risk assessments," American Banker reported in January. "Specifically, 80 percent of European banks surveyed are, in some way, stress-testing their loan and investment portfolios for a 2-degree-Celsius increase in global temperatures, versus just 44 percent of banks in North America."

A report issued last month by U.S.-based Morgan Stanley tallied $650 billion in climate-related disasters over the past three years — and predicted $54 trillion in damages worldwide by 2040, citing figures from the UN. "We expect the physical risks of climate change to become an increasingly important part of the investment debate for 2019," the Morgan Stanley strategists wrote.

The Banking on Climate Change report finds that nonetheless, Morgan Stanley offered fossil fuel companies $19.48 billion in financing in 2018 (down from $23.7 billion the prior year), making it the world's 11th largest financier of fossil fuel projects.

"Alarming is an understatement," said lead author Alison Kirsch, a Rainforest Action Network researcher. "This report is a red alert."

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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