This Saturday May 30th 2020, Uniper fires a new German coal power plant, Datteln 4. While Europe needs to phase out coal by 2030 to have a chance to limit global warming to 1.5°C, while several coal power plants are being closed earlier than expected for economic as well as sanitary and environmental reasons, the brand new installation seems almost unreal. Public outrage wasn’t enough, backed by its parent company Fortum, that brands itself as a pioneer of clean energy, Uniper revived the dirtiest fossil fuel and further delayed the German ecological transition. In the shadows, behind this anachronistic development, BNP and.. the ECB are hiding.
From 2017 to 2019, BNP Paribas provided USD 215 million to Uniper and USD 2.9 billion to Fortum, making itself the 2nd biggest financer to the Finnish company. To build a new coal plant in Europe was not an issue for BNP Paribas to maintain its financing and investment to the company without even joining investors’ engagement efforts to push the company to publish a coal exit plan. Thus, in March 2020, BNP Paribas AM did not sign the join letter sent to Fortum by 8 investors to call the company to give up its Datteln IV plan and to adopt a plan to exit coal by 2030.
Today, BNP Paribas says to no longer want to finance companies that plan new coal plants and to only keep in its portfolio companies that prove to be able to exit coal by 2030 in EU/OECD countries and by 2040 in other countries. Uniper is blocking the coal exit in Europe and has no plan to close its coal plans in Russia. Consequently, BNP Paribas must only exclude the company from all financial services.
More surprisingly at first, the ECB also supports Fortum, through its asset purchases or “quantitative easing” program. In fact, the ECB does not take climate into account in its purchases. It finances many fossil fuel companies and has not taken the path of a coal exit, far from it. Even Uniper suing the Netherlands to block its coal exit will not stop the ECB from buying assets from its parent company Fortum.
The opening of a new coal power plant is a sad news for all Europe. Everyone must take its own share of the blame. For BNP, it means applying its commitments, truly exiting coal and aligning its operations with a 1.5°C global warming trajectory. For the ECB, it means giving up on its false “neutrality” that drives it to finance the biggest polluters and opposes European objectives.