Already under pressure over fossil fuel financing ahead of its AGM tomorrow, Barclays tops the list of coal-supporting UK banks, with over $27bn of lending and underwriting to GCEL companies over the last two years (3), placing it in the top 10 globally. HSBC is also singled out for criticism, having funnelled over $15bn into coal companies in two years, including ongoing direct support for coal infrastructure in Bangladesh. With Standard Chartered, the pair made up over 94% of coal financing from UK banks.
The findings will damage the UK’s claims to climate leadership as it prepares to host the crucial COP26 climate summit. Just two weeks ago, the UK government claimed to be “leading the world in tackling climate change”, while Chancellor Rishi Sunak this month launched the UK Centre for Greening Finance and Investment. But the report reveals that the Government has failed to get a handle on finance, with the City of London ranking as the world’s third biggest coal financial centre, and the largest in Europe.
In contrast, the report shows Paris making substantial progress on phasing out coal. Strikingly, the analysis finds 19 French financial institutions with robust coal policies but none in the UK; likewise only one UK financial institution (M&G) plans to exclude coal mine and plant developers, against 26 in France.
Commenting on the report’s findings, Lucie Pinson, Founder and Executive Director of Reclaim Finance, remarked: “This report shows a tale of two cities. While in Paris banks and investors cleaned up their act on coal after COP21, the City of London isn’t lifting a finger to end its deadly coal addiction, even if that means wrecking the UK’s reputation on climate. On the international stage the UK governmenthas sought to lead a global exit from coal (4), but the financial sector clearly hasn’t got the memo.”
Rather than decreasing their exposure to destructive industries, leading UK investors are in fact doubling down on support to the most polluting fossil fuel, the report finds, with 17 lacking any public coal exit policy whatsoever. One of the chief villains is Schroders, whose lack of global coal phase-out policy has contributed to it becoming the biggest investor in companies planning to develop coal plants, with $1.1bn of support. The report argues that engagement may simply provide cover for these companies, and suggests investors should be willing to divest where necessary.
Katrin Ganswindt, Head of Financial Researchat Urgewald, said: “Engagement only works if it comes with clearly defined requirements for staying invested. A case in point is the diversified Swiss coal mining company Glencore, funded by the likes of Barclays, HSBC and Schroders. After lengthy engagement with the investor initiative CA100+, Glencore agreed on a toothless production cap for coal, but has no public plans for a timely closure of its mines and is still expanding its operations in Australia. Thus without the threat of divestment, investors’engagement strategies are not enough to force companies out of coal.”
All banks and the majority of investors included within the report have joined a net-zero initiative, including Barclays and HSBC joining the new Net-Zero Banking Alliance earlier this month. Yet the report calls into question the impact of these initiatives, given that not a single bank or investor meets the criteria of a robust coal policy, according to the campaigners.
As a result, in an embarrassing finding for the UK as co-founder and co-chair of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, British financial institutions are not just continuing to support the coal industry, but even companies with coal power expansion plans. Standard Chartered is the top villain, having doled out a whopping $4.7bn to these companies. The report’s authors are calling for ‘zero tolerance’ around coal expansion, including by demanding financial institutions divest from companies where necessary.
Paddy McCully, Energy Transition Analyst at Reclaim Finance, concluded: “The City of London has perfectly summed up the hollowness of net-zero commitments, when not accompanied by time-bound, tangible measures. If the UK is not to remain a motor of pollution across the world, its banks and investors need to rapidly establish red lines around coal expansionand follow through with divestment whenever they are breached. Fail to do so, and all the net-zero commitments in the world won’t be enough to restore their tarnished reputation on climate. ”