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Environmental campaign groups have accused many of the world’s largest banks of actively undermining the Paris agreement on climate change by pouring billions of dollars into coal plant developers.
Between January 2014 and September 2017 international banks channelled $630bn to the top 120 companies planning to build new coal plants around the world, according to research by campaign groups including the Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack and Friends of the Earth.
The researchers highlighted Beijing-based Industrial and Commercial Bank of China as the biggest underwriter for bond and share issues of coal plant developers, providing more than $33bn over that period.
The researchers also found that nine western banks increased their financing of coal plant developers in 2016: Citi, UBS, Barclays, Société Générale, BNP Paribas, ING, JPMorgan, Standard Chartered and Crédit Agricole.
The campaign groups said the figures were startling against the backdrop of the two-year anniversary of the Paris accord, where 195 countries agreed to fight global warming.
Jason Disterhoft, senior campaigner at Rainforest Action Network, a Californian environmental organisation, said: “With the Paris agreement now in its second year, there is no excuse for banks and investors to support companies that are planning to build new coal-fired power plants, which fly in the face of the international commitments to limit global warming.
“The bottom-line is that we need an immediate halt to all coal infrastructure investment.”
Shin Furuno, divestment campaigner at 350.org, which lobbies organisations to pull financing from companies that contribute to climate change, said: “Japanese banks need to finally commit to lending policies that are in line with the Paris agreement.”
The figures will raise questions over the seriousness of banks’ public claims to want to help tackle climate change. Many have vowed to help reduce global warming by supporting green financing initiatives.
HSBC last month promised $100bn of finance for low-carbon technology and sustainable development by 2025 as part of a package of measures to strengthen its commitment to dealing with climate change and other “green” goals.
This followed a similar commitment from JPMorgan in July to facilitate $200bn of finance for clean energy projects by 2025.
BankTrack’s Yann Louvel said: “In spite of banks’ policies, the financing tap for companies aiming to build hundreds of new coal plants still remains very much open. Banks need to close that tap and start saying ‘no’ to coal plant developers.”
A spokesperson for UBS said: “UBS strongly rejects the accusation made by some organisations that our firm is undermining the Paris agreement on climate change. We have in place a strong and comprehensive climate change strategy.”
Standard Chartered said it tightened conditions for financing coal-fired power stations in 2016, while ING said it was no longer financing new plants or coal mines, although it continued to work with existing clients. SocGen said it halted coal project finance in January 2017.
Barclays declined to comment. The other banks highlighted by the researchers did not respond to requests for comment.