This post is by Ben Collins of RAN and Yann Louvel of BankTrack.
The campaign to stop bank financing of mountaintop removal coal mining is gaining momentum.
For years, RAN and other organizations in the global BankTrack network have urged U.S. and European banks to stop financing the devastation caused by mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. BankTrack members have worked closely with advocates from Appalachia — the region hardest hit by MTR — including Paul Corbit Brown and Elise Keaton from Keeper of the Mountains, and Bob Kincaid from Coal River Mountain Watch. Together, they’ve travelled around the U.S. and Europe to speak directly to CEOs and boards of banks at their annual shareholder meetings and urge them to stop bankrolling mountaintop removal coal mining.
This week, we have an opportunity to push France’s biggest bank, Crédit Agricole, to stop profiting from MTR once and for all. At today’s annual shareholder meeting, Paul Corbit Brown and staff from Friends of the Earth France urged the bank’s CEO, Jean-Paul Chifflet, to follow the lead of other banks and stop funding the biggest and most destructive MTR companies.
Public pressure to stop funding MTR started showing results a few years ago. U.S. banks were the first to react in 2008, adopting a mix of enhanced due diligence procedures and financing thresholds for companies that engage in mountaintop removal. But real change started to happen last year, when Wells Fargo in the U.S., and Crédit Agricole and BNP Paribas in France, adopted new policies on MTR. These covered both direct project financing of MTR projects — which is pretty rare — and, more importantly, general corporate financing of coal mining companies active in MTR.
The implications of these new policies are potentially huge: the biggest and most harmful producers of MTR coal, such as Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal, raise their funding from general corporate loans from banks or from bonds or shares issued to investors. And these are precisely the transactions that should be excluded by these new policies, which bar financing for companies that are “significant” producers of MTR coal.
But we’ve learned that different banks define "significant" in wildly different ways. BNP Paribas blacklists the main companies active in MTR production, including Alpha and Arch. But Crédit Agricole — while its policy looks similar to BNP’s on paper — excludes only those coal mining companies that produce more than 20% of their coal from MTR. In practice, they aren’t prohibited from doing business with any MTR companies at all!
Crédit Agricole has financed several loan and bond deals for Alpha and Arch — the worst of the worst MTR companies — while BNP Paribas hasn’t done any deals with these two companies since last year. Ironically for Crédit Agricole, financing MTR has not only been bad for the environment and human rights — it’s also been a bad investment. The bank suffered significant financial losses from loans it made to recently-bankrupt MTR miner Trinity Coal.
In contrast to Crédit Agricole, other U.S. and European banks have taken concrete steps away from MTR financing this spring. Last month, JPMorgan Chase published an update of its environmental and social policy framework, stating that they expected to continue defunding companies engaged in mountaintop mining. And in the U.K., Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) published a mining policy update prohibiting deals with the main MTR producers. Unlike Crédit Agricole’s new policy, these policy changes at JPMorgan Chase and RBS have teeth: both banks will stop financing top MTR producers, including Alpha and Arch.
Today, our allies went straight to Crédit Agricole’s annual shareholder meeting to tell the bank’s CEO and board close its massive MTR loophole, and stop funding Alpha and Arch.
Yann Louvel, Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator, BankTrack
Ben Collins, Research and Policy Campaigner, Rainforest Action Network
For the first time since we began publishing coal finance report cards five years ago, we have an encouraging trend to report: Major banks have begun making noise about the growing financial risk associated with climate change—and specifically associated with coal, the top global contributor to carbon pollution.
On top of that, major banks have begun to cut ties with the biggest mountaintop removal (MTR) coal companies. This progress has exposed a growing gap between banks that are still sinking billions into coal, and those that are cutting ties with the worst-of-the-worst in the coal industry.
Today, RAN, the Sierra Club, and BankTrack released our 2014 Coal Finance Report Card, “Extreme Investments, Extreme Consequences,” which grades U.S. banks on their performance and policies related to coal-fired power and mountaintop removal coal mining. We also uncovered the top financiers of contentious coal export schemes like those in the Pacific Northwest and coal trains that transport dusty coal across the United States.
All told, banks sank over $31 billion into the worst companies in the coal industry last year, with $6.5 billion coming from Citigroup, the top funder of coal-fired power. However, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo began to phase out financing for MTR, earning our first ever “B” grades, and marking a positive trend away from the extreme mining practice.
Meanwhile, UK-based Barclays increased its exposure to MTR, financing $550 million for mountaintop removal coal companies last year, more than any other bank.
Environmental damage from mining, transporting, and burning coal—including health hazards like air pollution and water contamination from spills—doesn’t just harm communities and the environment, it costs banks money. In the report card, we highlight examples of this in case studies about the rising cost of clean-up for water contamination at mine sites, increases in coal company bankruptcies, and money-losing coal-fired power plants.
The report comes on the heels of analyst publications from Goldman Sachs, HSBC and Citigroup last year, each of which challenged the case for continued investment in the coal industry. These and other banks have acknowledged that power plant regulations, a potential price on carbon, and competition from renewable energy sources could “strand” assets such as coal mining, transport, and power generation facilities. With billions of dollars in loans on the line, it’s not a question of if climate risk will translate into financial risk, but when.
Ironically, these very same banks maintain deep financial ties to the riskiest and most environmentally destructive companies in the U.S. coal industry. As credit ratings for some coal mining companies sank farther below investment grade last year, banks continued to place bets on risky loans to the sector.
The report card warns banks that before the carbon bubble bursts onto their balance sheets, it will irreversibly destabilize the climate. So while we are happy to report that a few banks took the first steps to cut off financing to the worst-of-the-worst of the coal industry, the banking industry as a whole must now cut its losses and forge a path away from coal, before it’s too late for both them and us.
|Bloomberg’s “World’s Greenest Banks”|
|Name||Bloomberg rating (2012)||Climate Killer Banks rating (2011)|
|JP Morgan Chase||3||1|
|Mitsubishi UFJ Finance Group||4||17|
|Credit Suisse Group||5||9|
|Mizuho Financial Group||8||-|
|Lloyds Banking Group||9||-|
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.
- 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.
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.
|Bank||in billion Euro||Ranking|
|JP Morgan Chase||16,540||1|
|Bank of America||12,590||3|
|Royal Bank of Scotland||10,946||7|
|Bank of China||6,323||12|
|Industrial and Commercial Bank of China||6,182||13|
|Crédit Agricole / Calyon||5,637||14|
|UniCredit / HVB||5,231||15|
|China Construction Bank||5,110||16|
|Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group||4,980||17|
|Data provided by Profundo|
An international coalition of NGOs came together to release this groundbreaking report, including urgewald, a German environmental organization; groundWork and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, two South African social and environmental justice organizations; and BankTrack, an international network. RAN contributed research to the report. A full copy of the study with a ranking of all the researched banks can be downloaded here. The underlying data for this research were provided by Profundo economic research. They can be found here.