Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
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.
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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When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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