Pages tagged "'banks"

5 Photos That Show Why Barclays Bank Must Stop Financing Mountain Destruction

Barclays, the British banking giant, is the number one financier of companies engaged in mountaintop removal mining for coal.

Often referred to as MTR, mountaintop removal is a horrendous practice that destroys mountains, poisons water supplies and hurts communities. That's why more than 19,000 Rainforest Action Members have sent messages to Barclays demanding the drop MTR financing and is one reason protests confronted the banks annual share holder meeting in London this week.

Barclays executives should take a good long look at these photos. Maybe then they'll stop investing in mountain destruction.

Paul Corbit Brown MTR image

MTR uses explosives to literally blow off the tops of mountains and get the coal underneath.

MTR site

Hundreds of thousands of acres of beautiful mountains and forest are being destroyed in central Appalachia by companies using MTR.

Contaminated Stream

The rubble from mountaintop removal mining is then pushed into valleys where local streams and water sources are contaminated.

Contaminate Well Water

Hundreds of families have had their wells destroyed by nearby mining practices. Cancer, birth defects, heart and long disease and shortened life spans plague communities near MTR sites.

Polluted vs. Clean

The difference between contaminated and clean water can be stark. It is time for Barclays to get on the right side of history and stop financing companies that poison water.

Photos by Paul Corbit Brown.

Barclays: The Biggest Banker of Mountaintop Removal Coal

This year’s grades for the banks that finance the worst coal companies are in, and they’re not pretty.

Financing companies that use mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining practices puts communities, the environment, and bank shareholders at risk. But last year, several banks continued to hand billions of dollars to top producers of mountaintop removal coal--earning themselves a big fat failing grade on our new report card—even while grassroots pressure has moved some of their competitors in the right direction.

The biggest failure is Barclays, the British banking giant and #1 financier of MTR coal last year.

Shame on Barclays

TAKE ACTION: Tell Barclays to stop financing the destruction of mountains and poisoning of communities for coal!

Coal financing isn’t rocket science, and the smart money is already getting out of MTR. By speaking out, you’ve made MTR financing a huge blemish for a big bank’s public image. Your activism has made U.S. and European banks, including JPMorgan Chase and BNP Paribas, cut ties with the worst MTR coal companies last year.

While some banks are learning that MTR coal is bad for business, today’s publication of our Coal Finance Report Card exposes Barclay's as the slowest bank to grasp that lesson. It is financing a public health and environmental disaster, blowing up mountains and poisoning water with waste.

But we can move Barclay’s just like we are moving JPMorgan Chase and BNP Paribas.

Let’s start by making today the day that Barclays realizes that financing MTR could be one of the biggest mistakes it ever made.  

Goldman Sachs Sacks Coal Export Investment

jumpingwhaleThis year got off to a good start when Goldman Sachs withdrew its investment in the dirtiest coal project on the west coast by selling off its equity investment in Carrix, the parent company of SSA Marine, which was behind a colossal coal export terminal proposal near Bellingham, Washington. The move comes after coal companies and their proponents have tabled or dropped three out of six proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest in the last two years. If built, the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point would mean up to 18 mile-long coal trains traveling through local communities and up to 48 million tons of coal exported to Asian markets each year. It would be the largest coal export terminal in North America, and threatened to ruin the rich biodiversity and unique cultural legacy found in the region. The large Wall Street banks have endured years of reputational crisis following the economic crash. There are many reasons why a company concerned with its reputation would choose to avoid the egregious Gateway Pacific Terminal which threatens human rights, a thriving Tribal fishery and biodiversity in a sensitive marine environment. Crina Hoyer of ReSources for Sustainable Communities in Bellingham points out: "We already know that local Main Street businesses would feel the negative impacts from coal export. And communities across the region are saying no to this bad deal because of health, climate, environmental and economic impacts.” While we don’t know the specifics behind Goldman Sachs’ decision, it is interesting to reflect that last July, Goldman Sachs posted a warning for investors that coal exports would decline in future years. Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute, commented: “It is reasonable to think Goldman’s departure is, at minimum, an indication Wall Street is losing confidence that Whatcom County will host a profitable coal terminal.”

Seven of Bloomberg's Top Ten "Greenest Banks" Are Climate Killers

BloombergGlobalWarmingA Guest blog-post by Yann Louvel, BankTrack's Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator This week, Bloomberg published the results of its third annual ranking of the “world’s greenest banks”: Citi was ranked first, followed by Santander and JPMorgan. The study assesses banks based on their lending to clean-energy projects and reduction in their own power consumption and carbon footprints. However, banks’ support for dirty energy, such as fossil fuel and nuclear power, is notably absent from Bloomberg’s methodology. When the value of banks’ finance for fossil fuels so often dwarfs their investments in renewables, Bloomberg’s data does not even tell half of the story. Measuring the Good, Ignoring the Bad One question mark over Bloomberg’s ranking is its definition of “clean energy”, and in particular its inclusion of hydropower (including large environmentally and socially destructive dam projects) and biomass/biofuels in this definition. But the fundamental problem with its approach lies in the complete omission of banks’ investments in fossil fuels and nuclear energy.  While banks’ growing investments in green energy are to be welcomed, it is even more crucial that investments in fossil fuels drop drastically in the coming years if we are to have a chance of avoiding catastrophic global warming. The ratio of green to "brown" investments would provide a meaningful study on the level of “greenness” of a bank, but looking at clean investments alone makes this little more than a PR exercise for the banking sector. To give a concrete example of this problem, BankTrack, together with urgewald, Groundwork and Earthlife Africa, released the “Bankrolling Climate Change” report in Durban in 2011. The report is an investigation into the coal investments of the world’s leading banks. We looked at the funding of 93 international banks in 71 coal companies between 2005 and 2011 to identify the “top 20 climate killer banks” in the world. The results show a significant overlap between Bloomberg’s “world’s greenest banks” and the top 20 climate killer banks. In fact, seven of Bloomberg’s top ten appear in the “Climate Killer” list.
Bloomberg’s “World’s Greenest Banks”
Name Bloomberg rating (2012) Climate Killer Banks rating (2011)
Citigroup 1 2
Santander 2 -
JP Morgan Chase 3 1
Mitsubishi UFJ Finance Group 4 17
Credit Suisse Group 5 9
Goldman Sachs 6 11
Deutsche Bank 7 6
Mizuho Financial Group 8 -
Lloyds Banking Group 9 -
Barclays 10 5
  Citi, which tops Bloomberg’s list, was rated the number two climate killer bank, and JPMorgan, our number one climate killer bank, is Bloomberg’s number three. Citi’s investments in the coal industry grew by 40% between 2005 and 2010 as the bank poured more than €13 billion into the coal industry. Citi’s profile on the BankTrack website links the bank to the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, as well as mountaintop removal coal mining and the controversial Alpha Coal project in Australia, expected to directly and negatively impact the Great Barrier Reef. This makes the “Greenest Bank in the World” tag a little hard to swallow. Environmental Direct-Impact, Back to Sustainability Pre-History Another disturbing aspect of Bloomberg’s methodology is that “reductions in air emissions and water use and gains in energy efficiency” account for a full 30 percent of the score. These are banks’ “direct” impacts, e.g. their own use of energy for electricity and office heating. If this approach would have been understandable in the 1990s, it seems extremely dated in 2013, to say the least. Numerous studies, particularly from NGOs including many from BankTrack members and partners in the past few years, have clearly demonstrated that banks’ primary environmental impacts are result from their core activities – their lending and investments - rather than through their “direct” impacts. While the sustainability debate in the banking sector started ten or twenty years ago with these direct impacts, the trend since then has been towards looking at the issues that matter: the impacts of banks’ finance. Methodologies for measuring these ‘financed emissions’ already exist, and BankTrack has long called on banks to report on these impacts systematically. Management and reduction of direct impacts should be considered a ‘hygiene factor’ for banks, rather than a core issue. When Bloomberg reports that JPMorgan, which invested more than €16 billion in the coal industry between 2005 and 2011, “revamped its Park Avenue headquarters in New York, where energy-saving lights now dim automatically and a 54,000-gallon basement tank collects rain for flushing toilets and watering plants”, one has to wonder if it is looking down its telescope backwards. Stop The Greenwashing By avoiding mention of fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and by giving undue weight to banks’ direct impacts, Bloomberg’s “greenest banks” methodology is fundamentally, and it would seem deliberately, flawed. (BankTrack and partners Rainforest Action Network and urgewald already raised these concerns in a letter to Bloomberg last year). The results of this study will now be used by the “world’s greenest banks” in their marketing and public relations material - a generous but undeserved gift to banks which are ploughing billions into environmentally destructive projects. This is a shame when there remain plenty of opportunities for Bloomberg, banks, analysts and other stakeholders to examine bank’s investments in fossil fuels, nuclear power, and their financed emissions. BankTrack will continue to denounce such greenwashing exercises in the coming months and years.

Do We Need Natural Capital or Nature Without Capital?

squeezing money from the earthAs the Rio+20 'Earth' summit gets underway, we're hearing a slew of 'sustainability' pronouncements and declarations from the business sector, to illustrate their planet-saving intentions. One of these is the 'Natural Capital Declaration' (NCD), launched on Saturday by more than 35 financial institutions. They claim that this marks the first time the world of finance explicitly has made the protection and preservation of natural ecosystems a priority for CEO-level consideration and action. RAN has been campaigning for many years for the financial sector to take serious responsibility for the impacts on critical ecosystems caused by the corporations, projects and industries that it underwrites. However, we have some big concerns about the NCD... BankTrack (a network that RAN is a member of) put out the following response statement, which we agree with:
BankTrack welcomes any initiative by the financial sector that unequivocally acknowledges the inherent value of nature, as well as the limits posed to their business activities by the environmental carrying capacity of the earth. We equally welcome any sufficiently ambitious, credible initiative of the sector to factor this fundamental recognition into their business and investment decisions. BankTrack considers the Natural Capital Declaration not such an initiative, but a false and disturbing response of the financial sector to the profound ecological crises of today. It is based upon a fatally flawed understanding of the root causes of these crises (imperfect valuation of ‘Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services’) and proposes an equally flawed solution to them (proper pricing). The Declaration claims the fundamental right of business, and the adopting institutions in particular, to enter every realm of nature and the environment and to identify, price and subsequently market whatever ‘stock’ and ‘service’ can be identified there, under the pretext that this commodification process will help end the ongoing plunder and exploitation of nature. As such, the Declaration is another attempt to promote the liberal, market based ‘green economy’ model sought by business as outcome of the Rio conference. BankTrack believes that the manifold ecological crises need a wholly different response: instead of expanding the scope of markets to every domain of nature, creating a true green economy would start from the opposite; reversing the tide of commodification and financialization, reducing the role of markets and the financial sector, acknowledging the limits of business versus other spheres of life, and recognizing the collective responsibility of all people for, and strengthening the democratic control over the worlds’ ecological commons. Rather than a Natural Capital Declaration we need more Nature without Capital. Instead of launching a vaguely worded voluntary initiative with no immediate discernible impact on everyday investment decisions, we call upon the financial sector to withdraw itself from where it has no rightful place, to adopt strict no-go standards for all business activities that wreak havoc upon nature, climate, the environment and people, and to throw its full weight behind those sectors and initiatives that help preserve, protect and restore the life giving capacity of the earth.

Goldman Sachs Sets the Wrong Target

Goldman Sachs logoLast week I received an announcement from Goldman Sachs proudly promoting their latest Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report, highlighting efforts to address environmental, social and governance issues in 2011 and an ongoing commitment to clean energy financing. At first glance, this perhaps sounds good — the optimistic side of me wants to feel some sign of progress that groups like RAN, BankTrack, and our many allies have raised environmental issues high enough on the banking agenda for Goldman Sachs to be putting their resources these initiatives. But when I scratch the varnish on this announcement, my pessimistic side takes over. Goldman's flagship clean energy commitment — a new target to make $40 billion energy investments or financing over the next ten years — lacks ambition. It is actually a step backwards, implying a lower level of financing than in the previous six years. The average $4 billion annual target is actually lower than the $4.8 billion that Goldman Sachs invested in the sector in 2011, and also less than the average of $4.6 billion since its initial environmental target was set in 2005. From that point until the end of 2011, the bank had arranged $24 billion worth of financing and invested $4 billion of its own funds into renewable energy. But, more importantly, this commitment to renewable energy financing masks the significant amounts of money that Goldman Sachs is putting into fossil fuels, in particular coal. Here are some of the bank's recent 'efforts' that the bank needs to address:
  • In December 2011 Goldman Sachs was ranked the 11th worst 'Climate Killer' bank in terms of global coal financing in the ‘Bankrolling Climate Change’ report by BankTrack
  • Goldman Sachs owns a majority share in SSA Marine, the company that is planning to build the west coast's largest coal export terminal in Bellingham, Washington, threatening the critical ecosystem of Cherry Point Reach
  • In 2010 and 2011, Goldman Sachs underwrote seven of the most polluting utility companies that operate fleets of coal-fired power plants, the single largest source of climate pollution in the U.S.
  • Goldman Sachs owns and operates the Cedar Bay coal-fired power plant in Florida, which emitted 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 in 2011.
Goldman Sachs devotes pages of its new report to talking about its efforts to reduce their 'operational' climate emissions (those emissions that come from bank offices, staff travel etc). However, as RAN has said many times before, the most significant climate impact of any bank is the emissions of those companies and projects that the bank finances. Yet again, Goldman Sachs has avoided this topic.

The report also devotes a section to its "Creative financing solutions to protect and preserve the Great Barrier Reef", directly quoting the IPCC's ominous prediction that "by 2020, if nothing was done, as much as 60% of the Reef would bleach every second year". If Goldman Sachs is truly serious about saving the Reef and our climate, then the first obvious step is to get out of bed with the coal industry, and to set some  serious financed-emissions reduction targets.

WestLB Takes A Brave Step In The Right Direction

WestLB logoThis post is by Yann Louvel, BankTrack Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator. Last month we got some promising news from WestLB, the German bank. They produced a new policy on Arctic drilling (which our friends at Platform have written about here) and they published an update of their coal policy. While the first edition of their policy on "Coal-Fired Power Generation" already included interesting requirements for prospective clients, such as the need for operators "to provide the physical space necessary to carry out carbon capture (CCS)", this new edition has even more on offer. For instance, this is the first time that I have seen a bank stipulate as a requirement to power-plant operators the need "to ensure that there is no feasible less GHG-intensive alternative/fuel/energy source". Another 'first of its kind' criteria is the need for WestLB clients to have "Green House Gas reduction targets (to) be in place, monitored and audited in accordance with the 2 degrees Celsius taget of the EU and UNFCCC". These requirements, while self evident to us, are definitely not common practice in the banking sector today. They create the right incentives and send the right warning signals to bankers and clients alike that future requests for financing coal projects/companies will be intensely scrutinized, and will require more paper work, time and money to proceed. Overall, with this coal policy WestLB takes a brave step in the right direction, and sets an example for other banks to follow swiftly. The only problem is that this mental shift in bankers' brains needs to happen EXTREMELY quickly. The International Energy Agency stated in its latest World Energy Outlook that to have a chance of achieving the 2°C scenario, "all infrastructure built after 2017 needs to be zero carbon". With CCS still being out of reach by then and with several years needed to build a new coal power plant, this basically means that investments in new coal power plants need to stop NOW if we want to be serious about combating climate change. That's the difficult reality banks need to be confronted with and must act upon.

Greenwash of the Week

GreenwashIt’s the time of year when banks put their ‘best foot forward’ and prepare to be scrutinized by their shareholders at annual general meetings (AGMs). It’s a legal requirement, the AGM is held every year where the board of directors is elected, and the highest-ranking staff report to members on previous and future activities. So it’s no surprise that this is also the time of year when we hear new announcements about sustainability initiatives, that make the banks sound like Captain Planet. A couple of this year's batch have caused me to raise my eyebrow. This technically-dynamic, interactive video ‘experience’ from Canadian TD Bank proudly proclaims their campaign to protect the world’s forests. This sounds wonderful, but scratch the surface to find that this is a hyperbolic promotion of a paper-recycling program. Reducing and recycling are both good things to do – but in 2012, these are things that we should be doing as a matter of course, without even thinking about, let alone spending big bucks to ‘market’. Meanwhile Citi sent out its 2011 Citizenship report, which contained an announcement that it has exceeded its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 10% below 2005 levels by 2011 (covering direct emissions, and those associated with power purchased, respectively). Again, this is nice behavior, but the real problem is Citi’s financed emissions – those financial resources the bank allocates to the fossil fuel industry. When will the banks wake up to this and start taking critical climate-saving action?

100 Years Of “Bread and Roses”

[caption id="attachment_17471" align="alignleft" width="233" caption="Massachusetts militiamen surround strikers (via Wikipedia)."]Lawrence Textile Strike[/caption] "One may live without bread, but not without roses..." - Jean Richepin, 19th century French Poet One hundred years ago this week, 25,000 textile mill workers, many of them women and young girls, walked away from their looms and out of the Dickensian sweatshops of Lawrence, Massachusetts in protest of brutal working conditions and pay cuts. The "Bread & Roses" strike suddenly and unexpectedly thrust the horrible working conditions and massive economic gap of an earlier Gilded Age into the public eye. Sound familiar? Like today’s Occupy Wall Street movement, the Bread and Roses strike merged radical activism and worker militancy. Robert Forrant, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts, calls the strike “the first Occupy movement.” Progressive Era radicals, in this case the Industrial Worker’s of the World (IWW), or Wobblies, raised the voices of the ninety-nine percent. Representing the unskilled and immigrant workers that mainstream unions and liberal politicians ignored and refused to help, the strike illuminated the plight of families and child labor as it has never been done before. They pushed the envelope by utilizing direct action tactics such as pickets and a massive strike. In the case of Occupy, it was the call to action put out by AdBusters last summer that was embraced by direct action-istas, anarchists, and radicals across the world. In 1912, the IWW organized Lawrence’s mill workers to stage a multi-month strike in resistance to the American Woolen Company and other Yankee manufacturing bosses. The strike was partially sparked by liberal workday reforms that hurt these workers and benefited the one percent. Similar to today, Obama-era legislation and (lack of) regulation continues to favor big banks and corporations over poor and working class people. Hence, today’s Occupy movements are made up of, or represent, large numbers of disaffected Americans who have lost their homes, their jobs, have no health care, or are poisoned by the fossil fuel industry. The manufacturing bosses refused to negotiate with the “scourge of Southern Europe” and instead relied on military force and “divide and conquer” tactics. Without the benefit of MSNBC or YouTube, police and Massachusetts state militia brutalized strikers for months. Two workers were shot or bayoneted to death, while many others were clubbed and jailed. Before the strike, the one-percenters that owned Lawrence pitted ethnic groups against each other, as well as divisions in organized labor that favored skilled workers over unskilled workers. Much like today’s Occupy Wall Street, the Bread and Roses strike drew a line in the sand between the wealthy “haves” and the “have nots” at the bottom of the socio-economic food chain. Also like Occupy Wall Street, the demands for bread and roses sparked a radical movement of movements fighting for a living wage, better working conditions, and dignity and respect.

PNC Bank's Evolving Approach To The Energy Sector

[caption id="attachment_15973" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image via PNC Financial Services Group"]PNC's Planned Skyscraper[/caption] PNC recently released their 2011 Corporate Responsibility Report. Documents like this  provide a window into how a bank thinks about its environmental and social impact. RAN has been paying close attention to PNC Bank and its approach to the energy industry for a couple of years, so I was eager to get my hands on the new report and see whether PNC is strengthening its commitment to communities and the environment. The most eye-catching announcement in the introduction is the announcement that PNC will be building the “World’s Greenest Skyscraper” right in the heart of Pittsburgh. Avid readers of the Understory might recall that, in 2009, PNC built the “largest green wall in North America.” This is a commendable step-up in ambition. Extrapolating this trend, I look forward to PNC building the greenest city in the U.S. in 2013 and, before the decade concludes, PNC might just transform this nation to become the greenest on the planet. But seriously, RAN has been saying for years that, while we like to see corporations green-up their buildings and their operational practices, the true test of a “sustainable” bank is where it puts its money. If you compare this report to PNC's first, released in 2010, there is a striking shift in the language used. Whereas previously PNC spoke of “Lending in support of economic growth,” now the message is “Lending to drive growth responsibly.” I’m hearing an acknowledgement of both the tough times we are living in and the role that the unchecked pursuit of profit has played to get us into this unsustainable economic crisis. On page two, PNC gives an interesting trend analysis of energy sources. While the report doesn’t specifically say that PNC will be moving away from financing coal and oil, it does note that fossil fuels (except natural gas of course) are becoming less attractive as energy sources. I would like to see PNC disclose how its portfolio of energy investments compares to the national energy trends. The bank sounds enthusiastic about “deepening and broadening relationships” with those seeking to develop solar and other energy-efficient projects. However, there is no target stated indicating the level of financing that PNC is aspiring to provide. [caption id="attachment_15978" align="alignright" width="199" caption="Photo by Doug Bardwell"]PNC Green Wall[/caption] On page three, a new “supplemental due diligence criteria” is outlined that appears to apply to all companies in extractive industries. There is specific mention of “horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing methods.” I suspect these are being addressed because of the bank head office being located in Pittsburgh, where hydrofracking has been banned. I like the broad category of “extractive industries,” but there isn’t much here about what this criteria looks like, and no mention of reporting. PNC has restated its policy on mountaintop removal (MTR) mining. There is no change here and I have the same criticism as before: This policy has an identified performance standard — “coal producers who receive a majority of their production from MTR mining” — and it is unclear whether this refers to a company’s performance in Appalachia or across the United States. Prior to adopting this policy, PNC had substantial exposure to MTR companies and I would like to see PNC publicly report on the impact of the policy, as its competitors Citi and Morgan Stanley are now doing. In summary, the 2011 PNC Corporate Responsibility Report demonstrates that this bank’s approach to energy is evolving. But there is still plenty of room to improve transparency around targets and reporting on implementation, and for PNC to be as ambitious with energy underwriting as it is with building green skyscrapers.

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