Funds keep reaching new coal projects
Staying under 1.5°C requires getting out of coal. Yet a report released today reveals that while many financial institutions have adopted policies to restrict coal financing, financial support continues to flow to the coal industry, even to the companies building new coal projects. The report estimates that although the level of financing for coal plant construction fell by 46% since 2012 , more than US$60 billion still flowed to new coal projects (plants, mines and transport) from public and private sources in 2021.
According to Global Energy Monitor (GEM) report, 15 of the top 50 bankers of coal expansion are members of the Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA) (3), one of the seven sectoral alliances that make up GFANZ. In total, US$202 billion in loans and underwriting was provided to developers of new coal projects by 46 NZBA members from 2019 to 2021 (4). In spite of being a co-founder of the NZBA, Citi was the largest non-Chinese banker of coal expansion from January 2019 to November 2021, channeling US$16 billion to coal expansion.
As a group, US banks are the third biggest supporters of coal developers, worse only than Chinese and Japanese banks. Three American banks – Citigroup, Bank of America, and JPMorgan — particularly stand out, together accounting for more than US$35 billion between January 2019 and November 2021.
US banks’ hollow policies jeopardize our chances of meeting climate goals
To date, in contrast to many European banks, the coal policies of US banks mostly fail to restrict support for developers. A report by Reclaim Finance recently highlighted the continued support to coal expansion by the biggest US banks. This shows the shortcomings in banks’ coal policies: while they restrict funding to new coal projects, they have minimal or no restrictions on general corporate funding, which by far outweighs direct project support. Indeed, according to the GEM report, less than a fifth of all financial support to coal developers comes through designated project funding. Moreover, none of these US banks have strict exclusion criteria for companies who develop new coal projects (5). Funding for coal developers therefore keeps flowing through the cracks of the banks’ coal policies.
For instance, Citigroup’s coal policy only prohibits loans and underwriting that are aimed at specific projects, and for new clients that are developing new coal projects. It leaves untouched the existing coal developers in its client base. Indeed, analysis of Citigroup’s coal policy by Reclaim Finance reveals that it can continue to finance 44 companies that are developing at least 96 GW of new coal power capacity and 302 million tons per year of coal mining capacity.
Coal is the litmus test for the credibility of GFANZ
In August 2022, GFANZ leaders, Michael R. Bloomberg, Mark Carney, and Mary Schapiro, issued a statement entitled “No New Coal”, in which they stress that “Members of the net-zero financial sector alliances should identify and end any financing and investing in support of new coal activities.” This statement came a month after the UN Race to Zero campaign had strengthened its criteria to include a demand that its members adopt transition plans which lay out their short, medium and long-term plans to phase out fossil fuels and stop supporting fossil fuel expansion (6). All the members of GFANZ are required to comply with these Race to Zero criteria.
As highlighted in the GEM report, combustion of coal is the world’s leading emitter of CO2. Stopping coal expansion is a test of the credibility of any financial institution’s net-zero pledges. Banks such as Citi, one of the founders of the NZBA, and JPMorgan, cannot credibly claim to be committed to net zero while financing the companies that are developing new coal mines and power plants.
The shrinking carbon budget leaves no time for empty words and promises. With only a month left before COP27, the GFANZ co-chairs, Michael R. Bloomberg and Mark Carney need to get on the phone with the CEOs of the GFANZ members who keep pouring funds into new coal mines and power plants and tell them to cut it out.