The Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB), a bank-led initiative supported by the UN Environment Programme Initiative (UNEP-FI), was launched on 22 and 23 September 2019 as part of NY Climate Week and the United Nations General Assembly.
130 signatory banks – representing more than USD 47 trillion in assets and one third of global capital – publicly committed to align their businesses with the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is REALLY promising.
If banks are truly going to align their practices with these global initiatives, then they would end any financing of deforestation no later than 2020 (in line with SDG 15), immediately stop financing any fossil fuel expansion or peatland degradation, and rapidly phase out financing of fossil fuels in line with a 1.5ºC trajectory. Respecting human rights, especially Indigenous rights, would also be part of the equation. Can we expect this of these 130 banks?
The short answer is, we’re not sure. The challenge is that many of these banks are currently bankrolling the climate crisis and human rights violations and will need to fundamentally change their approach to financing if they are going to truly align with Paris and the SDGs. (See our analysis below of 8 banks and how they are misaligned with the PRB)
On the day of the PRB launch, 26 civil society organizations, including Rainforest Action Network, issued a statement welcoming the PRB and the banks’ commitments, but expressing significant reservations about what these new principles will actually deliver. Signatory banks are now expected to assess the environmental and social impacts of their business, set a few targets for implementing the PRB, and achieve those targets within four years. Four years is too long to address the current climate and ecological crises that we now face.
What we don’t want is for the PRB to become another greenwashing tool that masks the destruction of the environment and egregious human rights abuses.
On September 23rd, the day of the public launch of the PRB, RAN, BankTrack, Amazon Watch, 350.org NYC, and WECAN staged an action in front of the conference venue, making it loud and clear that we won’t tolerate banks that use the PRB for greenwashing.
We also asked some hard questions during the launch event, specifically to Citigroup and BNP Paribas, about how they plan to address their recent financing of fossil fuels and Amazon deforestation. Citi’s response was so vague that it’s worrying whether they have any serious intention to address the climate crisis. See for yourself.
RAN asks question, BNP Paribas responds
What we want is for all PRB banks to seize this opportunity, be transparent about the full impacts of their financing on people and planet including all negative impacts, and make the necessary changes (i.e. strengthening ESG policies, client monitoring, and internal governance and incentive systems) to ensure their businesses are no longer facilitating deforestation, climate chaos, or human rights abuses. Banks must act swiftly. We have no time to lose.
** Financing data has been sourced from Banking on Climate Change: Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2019, forestsandfinance.org, and Complicity In Destruction II: How Northern Consumers and Financiers Enable Bolsonaro’s Assault on the Brazilian Amazon
Source: Civil Society Statement
Read the civil society statement in full here.