After the Paris climate agreement in late 2015, J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon spoke publicly in support of the agreement, which calls for finance flows to be “consistent with a pathway toward low greenhouse gas emissions.” But despite his rhetoric, between 2016 and 2018 his bank ramped up funding for fossil fuels, pouring $196 billion into financing coal, Arctic oil and gas, fracking, tar sands, and other fossil fuel projects. If you bank at Chase, your money might have helped fund drilling in the Amazon rainforest.
In total, according to a new report from a group of environmental nonprofits, the 33 largest global banks collectively provided $1.9 trillion in financing for fossil fuels. Of that, $600 billion went to 100 companies that are aggressively expanding fossil fuel projects at a time when climate scientists say that the world needs to rapidly transition to renewable energy.
“That expansion figure is particularly worrying for us,” says Alison Kirsch, lead researcher for the climate and energy program at the Rainforest Action Network, one of the nonprofits behind the report. “Previous analysis has shown that the potential carbon emissions from fossil fuel reserves already in production would take us beyond two degrees of warming, let alone 1.5 degrees.”
Some large banks have started to restrict fossil investments. HSBC, for example, announced in 2018 that it would stop funding new Arctic drilling, tar sands, and coal plants–though then it made an exception for new coal plants in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Other policies are similarly incomplete; some restrict funding specific projects but not fossil fuel companies in general.
Chase is not alone in its support of fossil fuels, though it provides 29% more financing than Wells Fargo, which is in second place. Citi and Bank of America round out the top four banks financing fossil fuels in the world. (When asked for comment, a Chase spokesperson pointed us to the facts that the company has a commitment to move its own electricity use to renewable energy and also has a $200 billion commitment to “clean” financing that advances sustainability.)
On March 18, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs, both of which invest heavily in fossil fuels, filed motions in court to exclude shareholder resolutions that had asked them to reduce their carbon footprints in line with the Paris agreement. The SEC recently granted both banks permission to prevent shareholders from sharing these resolutions, claiming that the proposals “micromanage” the companies.
For consumers who want to take their money elsewhere, some banks, like Aspiration, offer fossil-fuel-free banking. Kirsch argues that consumer pressure–along with pressure from investors, some of whom have concerns about the long-term viability of oil and gas companies–could lead large banks to change their policies. “We’ve seen success with consumer pressure in the past,” she says. “We saw that with banks on coal.”