UK Celebs Join Campaign to Get Top UK Banks to Stop Funding Fossil Fuel Expansion
Between 2016 and 2021, the UK’s five largest banks invested a total of $368 billion in fossil fuels and gave $141 billion to the 50 companies that did the most to expand oil and gas during the same period.
Now, famed screenwriter and director Richard Curtis wants them to curb their dirty spending habits, and he’s enlisting some big names in his campaign including actors Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson and Mark Rylance.
“We hope this weird and wonderful coalition of activists and actors, businesses and brands, celebrities and climate champions puts a fire under the banks to stop them setting fire to the world,” Curtis told The Guardian.
Curtis is best known as the screenwriter behind romantic comedy classics like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridge Jones’s Diary, as well as the writer-director of Love Actually. However, he has recently turned his attention to climate activism with the campaign Make My Money Matter, which focuses on greening UK pension funds.
The campaign’s latest effort is a letter to the CEOs of the nation’s five leading banks–HSBC, Barclays, Santander, NatWest and Lloyds–asking them to stop funding the expansion of fossil fuels.
“Do you think we’ll stand for you financing climate catastrophe? Don’t bank on it,” the letter concludes.
The letter cites the conclusion from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that new oil, gas or coal developments are incompatible with limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and avoiding the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Those developments will not be possible without money, which is why the letter is targeting banks with three demands:
- No more funding for new fossil fuel projects.
- Give clients an ultimatum for stopping fossil fuel expansion.
- Cut off clients that do not stop expanding fossil fuel developments.
So far, the letter has been signed by nearly 5,000 organizations and individuals including Fry, Thompson, Rylance, Brian Eno, naturalist Chris Packham, Green Member of Parliament Caroline Lucas, Just Stop Oil, Greenpeace UK, Save the Children UK, Ecotricity, Ella’s Kitchen and Triodos Bank, The Guardian reported.
The campaign draws on figures from the 2022 reports Banking on Climate Chaos and Oil and Gas Expansion: A Lose-Lose Bet for Banks and Their Investors. The first found that the world’s 60 largest banks had channeled $4.6 trillion towards fossil fuels after the Paris agreement was adopted. While internationally, the U.S. banks of JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo and Bank of America are the biggest offenders, contributing a quarter of all fossil fuel finance during the study period, Barclays was the prominent fossil fuel funder in Europe. The latter report that the five UK banks gave the top 50 fossil fuel expanding companies almost $16 billion in 2021 alone.
The letter also comes as yet another report, released in January, found that banks and financial institutions that had signed a net zero agreement were still investing in fossil fuels, as The Guardian reported further. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) emerged out of the COP26 UN climate conference in 2021 and saw members agree to make investment decisions in keeping with the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. However, the report from Reclaim Finance found that members were still pumping hundreds of billions of dollars towards coal, oil and gas expansion. Both Barclays and HSBC were on a list of the top 20 bankers of the biggest fossil fuel expanding companies.
In response to the letter, the banks in question told The Guardian that they were making progress. Santander said it had set emissions reductions targets for 2030, NatWest said it did not lend to fossil fuel companies that did not have a credible climate plan and that such loans were less than one percent of the bank’s current lending. Barclays touted its 2050 net zero commitment but also said fossil fuel companies could play a role in the energy transition.
“Many oil and gas companies are actively engaged and critical to the transition, committing significant resources and expertise to renewable energy,” a spokesperson said, as The Guardian reported. “We believe that we can make the greatest difference by supporting these clients to transition to a low-carbon economy, facilitating the finance needed to change their business practices and scale green technologies. Where carbon-intensive companies are unable or unwilling to reduce or eliminate their emissions, we will reduce our support over time.”
HSBC announced in December that it would no longer finance new oil and gas fields, as BBC News reported at the time. This was not acknowledged in the letter but was applauded by Make My Money Matter at the time.
“It’s another nail in the coffin for fossil fuel expansion, and a massive signal to other UK banks that the game is up on new oil and gas,” Make My Money Matter chief executive Tony Burdon told BBC News.
Lloyds announced a similar commitment in October, which the letter did mention.
“Lloyds has made a start by ending direct financing to new oil, gas, and coal projects; but all 5 of you must ensure you take climate action by following the three steps above, otherwise we will find a new bank,” the letter signatories promised.
The commitment to green banking is one that is increasingly popular among UK customers. In a Make My Money Matter survey, 29 percent of the customers of the five banks said they would move their money if their banks were funding new fossil fuel projects, while 86 percent said they thought their bank should do more to address the climate crisis, according to The Guardian.
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