UK banks have invested nearly £150 billion into fossil fuels since the Paris Climate agreement in 2016, according to new figures.
International NGO BankTrack, which tracks investments from banks and the activities they finance, found the overall investment from leading British banks into fossil fuels included £45bn for the expansion of fossil fuels, and £13bn in fracking.
It comes in the weeks following two Global Climate Strikes, attended by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, and ahead of a major direct action planned by campaign group Extinction Rebellion.
As well as the growing public awareness of the urgent need for climate action, governments have begun waking up to the crisis. The UK government has become one of the first in the world to establish a legally binding target for net zero emissions, aiming to achieve it by 2050.
Model and activist Lily Cole, who has joined new calls for the banking sector to respond to the climate crisis, said: “I’ve long believed in voting with your wallet for the change you want to see in the world, for example supporting Fairtrade and organic food and fashion, yet there are other subtle and powerful ways that our money shapes the world – such as the investments made by our banks, pensions and the institutions we work with.”
CEO of Friends of the Earth, Craig Bennett, said: “Too many UK banks are failing to take the climate emergency seriously. How can they talk about wanting to serve society while investing in planet-wrecking projects such as fossil fuel extraction? Funding the destruction of our planet is certainly not in the best interest of customers.”
In addition to funding fossil fuel expansions, shown to be decimating any potential to reach climate targets, new research found banks are offering conflicting accounts of their sustainability initiatives.
A report commissioned by ethical bank Triodos UK, carried out by research agency Kingfisher, trawled 800 pages of leading banks’ websites. It found the following:
- The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not mentioned once by the UK’s biggest banks, while the term ‘sustainability’ occurs only four times.
- Collectively, the biggest UK banks only mention the term ‘planet’ three times on their websites.
- High street bank HSBC references its sustainability commitments repeatedly, while at the same time investing £47bn in fossil fuels since 2016.
- Two high street banks do not mention any of the key terms analysed – green, sustainability, SDG, planet or carbon – on their UK retail banking websites.
“We are in a state of climate emergency and the banking industry needs to radically transform to be part of the solution,” said Triodos chief executive, Bevis Watts.
“Banks should be using the money deposited with them in their customers’ long-term interests – yet many have continued to prioritise funding the fossil fuel industry, despite its devastating impact on the planet and our future wellbeing.”
Watts said Triodos “would like to see greater transparency from all banks in where they are investing their money”, so that customers can make informed choices.
“We want more people to know that switching banks is one of the most powerful environmental changes you can make as an individual – by changing your bank you really can make a difference in the world. You can choose to prevent your money from financing arms, pesticides, plastic packaging or fossil fuels,” he added.