Far Reaching Fossil Fuel Policies from European Financial Giants Highlight Foot Dragging From US Banks and Insurers

For Immediate Release: November 27,  2019

France’s largest insurer, AXA, announced today the strongest coal policy so far from any major private financial institution. AXA will totally phase-out its insurance and investments in the coal sector by 2030 in the EU and OECD countries, and by 2040 in the rest of the world. 

It will immediately cut ties with companies with plans to expand coal mining and power generation, and will severely restrict insurance services for other coal companies. It is calling on coal companies to adopt coal phase-out plans by 2021 that are aligned with the Paris climate agreement. 

Italy’s largest bank, UniCredit, announced on Tuesday that it will stop directly financing new coal mining and power projects and restrict its corporate lending and underwriting for coal mining and coal power companies. European NGOs have pointed out that UniCredit needs to do more on coal, in particular because its policy allows it to continue financing existing clients even if they expand their coal-related businesses.

UniCredit has however set a precedent among major global banks in its restrictions across the unconventional oil and gas sectors. Its new policy prohibits the financing of tar sands oil, and new oil and gas projects in the Arctic, as well as in fracking, and deepwater oil and gas. Corporate financing for clients active in these areas will only be allowed if less than 25% of their revenues are from these activities.

Patrick McCully, Climate and Energy Program Director for Rainforest Action Network said:

“These new policies are another encouraging sign that banks and insurers are feeling the heat from the public, shareholders and regulators to take meaningful action on climate. Unfortunately they contrast sharply with the glacially slow progress being made by the big banks and insurers in the US. This is especially disastrous for the climate given the size of the US financial sector. Globally dominant financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase and Liberty Mutual continue to be grossly irresponsible in their full-blown support for the corporations that are destroying our climate.”

By far the world’s biggest banker of fossil fuels is JPMorgan Chase, followed by Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are also in the top dozen climate change bankers.  

The corporate lending and underwriting restrictions from UniCredit are particularly significant. Many banks, especially in Europe, have limited lending for specific projects in these problematic sectors, but very few banks have limited their underwriting services and lending to corporations operating in these sectors. 

Until yesterday, UniCredit had the weakest policies on fossil fuels of any of the major European banks. Between 2016 and 2018 it was the 6th biggest banker (lending and underwriting) of the largest companies involved in Arctic oil and gas, and the 10th biggest banker of the largest global coal mining companies.

UniCredit now becomes the 46th global bank with restrictions on coal finance; the 17th with restrictions on Arctic oil and gas; the 19th with tar sands restrictions; the 2nd with fracking restrictions; and the first with restrictions on deepwater oil and gas.

By comparison, none of the major US banks have any restrictions on corporate finance for coal power, nor on any project or corporate finance in the oil and gas sectors.

Only two US insurers, Chubb and AXIS Capital have restricted insurance for coal. AXIS has also restricted its tar sands insurance.

Antonio Tricarico, of Italian NGO Re:Common, said:

“Under its new sustainability slogan ‘Do the right thing!’, UniCredit has come a good distance on coal with the new policy. But to really do the right thing, UniCredit should follow-up quickly with an explicit commitment to immediately stop financing coal expansionists, and a pledge to fully exit coal at the latest by 2030 in OECD countries and by 2040 elsewhere, as the scientific community is now insisting has to happen if we are to avoid runaway climate change.”

Ben Cushing, Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club, said:

“Today’s announcement is yet another positive step by European banks, recognizing the role they play when it comes to the climate crisis. Unfortunately, US institutions continue to demonstrate they’re just as dated as the fuels they continue to prop up. It’s past time for all banks and insurers to recognize that fossil fuels are a thing of the past, and own their responsibility in tackling the climate crisis.”



Patrick McCully – patrick@ran.org +1 510 213 1441

Antonio Tricarico – atricarico@recommon.org +39 328 8485448‬

Ben Cushing – ben.cushing@sierraclub.org +1 510 821 4725‬