Coal mining

Which banks contribute the most to global warming?

by Ivan du Roy

This article was originally published in French. Translation by Natasha Edwards.

+3.6 °C by the end of the century. That is the estimated increase in global temperatures according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). A mild spell in the spring will develop into a heat wave and a cold, dry winter into torrential rains. At the United Nations conference in Warsaw, governments continue to discuss this gloomy prospect. Whilst countries and lobbies negotiate, investments continue to flow relentlessly into the sector which is producing the largest quantity of greenhouse gas: coal, dirty energy par excellence. Since the Kyoto Protocol (developed in order to assist member states in reducing their emissions) came into effect in 2005,, the banking sector has either invested or lent 165 billion euros for coal extraction: an average of over 18 billion per year.

These figures are highlighted in a new report by the Banktrack network. According to this international network, based in the Netherlands, which scrutinises the banking sector’s investments and their social and environmental impact, investments in coal mining have increased by 397% in eight years, mostly as a result of the high demand for energy resources from emerging countries (see the press release). Two French banks are in the ‘Top 20’ of global banks most heavily involved in coal mining: BNP Paribas (10th position, with investments of about 4.5 billion euros since 2005) and Crédit Agricole (19th with a 2 billion euro investments). The latter (still partly a mutualist bank) nevertheless claims that “Fighting global warming is a major challenge for society and is one of the Crédit Agricole group’s main focus in terms of its social responsibility”.

French banks, not quite as bad as US banks

Société Générale is not much better, in 22nd position, followed by the BPCE/Natixis group, in 37th position. At the bottom of the table, Crédit Mutuel and Banque Postale seem to be virtually clean in relation to the coal industry, respectively in 75th (with an investment of ‘only’ 50 million euros) and 100th position in the ranking.

True, French banks are not as bad as their American, Chinese and British counterparts, global champions of super-polluting investments. As shown in the chart above, the three ‘dirtiest’ banks in the world happen to be American: Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America. Morgan Stanley declares it wants to, “make the world more ecological and fight climate change”, whilst Citigroup claim to be the “the most innovative investment bank in relation to climate change and sustainable development”. Greenwashing and deceptive marketing spiel seem to know no boundaries.

But in the national ranking , French banks come in 4th position, ahead of Australian, Japanese and Swiss financial institutions. Whilst Deutsche Bank and Crédit Suisse have decreased their investments in the coal industry since 2011, BNP Paribas has not changed course. According to the IEA, if we do not wish to exceed +2°C in 2100, 80% of current coal reserves must remain underground, especially as, in a single rotation, a wind turbine can produce just as much energy (1 kilowatt) as 1.5kg of burnt coal.