Faced with mounting public pressure to take the climate crisis seriously and to end its financing for the fossil fuel industry, the investment bank JPMorgan Chase announced Monday that it will stop backing extraction projects in the Arctic and phase out loans for coal by 2024 but keep funding oil and gas developments across the globe.
"For the world's biggest banker of Arctic oil and gas to stop funding new fossil fuel projects in the region adds to the growing signal that the Arctic is a no-go zone for fossil expansion."
—Jason Opeña Disterhoft, RAN
"Activism works, what do you know," author and activist Naomi Klein tweeted in response to the news late Monday. "So much more to do but this is something."
JPMorgan is not only the largest bank in the United States, it is also the biggest funder of fossil fuels, according to the latest annual report from Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which revealed last March that the bank poured nearly $196 billion into coal, oil, and gas companies since world leaders adopted the Paris climate agreement in December 2015.
"In the context of the climate emergency, the biggest fossil bank in the world—by a 29% margin—has a unique responsibility to phase out its climate impact," RAN climate and energy senior campaigner Jason Opeña Disterhoft said in a statement Monday. "Today's policy does not meet that responsibility."
"That said, the measures that JPMorgan Chase took today are steps forward," he added. "For the world's biggest banker of Arctic oil and gas to stop funding new fossil fuel projects in the region adds to the growing signal that the Arctic is a no-go zone for fossil expansion. These measures are a continued credit to the power of the advocacy by the Gwich'in Steering Committee and their allies, who have been organizing for years to defend the Arctic Refuge from fossil fuel development. And Wall Street's biggest coal mining banker setting an aggressive exit date on some major miners will accelerate coal becoming unbankable."
BREAKING You did it! Today, JPMorgan Chase said it will rule out funding for coal plants, & for oil & gas projects in the Arctic.
— RAN (@RAN) February 24, 2020
Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, welcomed JPMorgan's new approach to the Arctic in a statement Monday that criticized ongoing efforts by President Donald Trump and his administration to open up parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to fossil fuel extraction.
"The Trump administration is pulling out all the stops to sell off our homelands for drilling, so big banks have a critical role to play in either supporting the destruction of this sacred place or keeping it protected," Demientieff said. "We're glad to see America's largest bank recognize that the Arctic Refuge is no place for drilling, and we hope that soon other banks and the oil companies they fund will follow along."
"It shows that even the biggest bank on Earth feels citizen pressure, so we will keep supplying that!"
—Bill McKibben, 350.org
The Washington Post on Monday described JPMorgan's new policy as a "baby step." Author and activist Bill McKibben, who co-founded 350.org, told the newspaper that the bank's pledges align with those of Goldman Sachs, which unveiled its updated rules for fossil fuels in December 2019.
"It seems like weak beer to me, basically just copying Goldman," said McKibben. "But it shows that even the biggest bank on Earth feels citizen pressure, so we will keep supplying that!"
Ben Cushing of the advocacy group Sierra Club suggested in a statement Monday that both banks' policies will put pressure on competitors to follow suit.
"The fact that even the world's worst fossil fuel banker wants nothing to do with Arctic Refuge drilling shows just how toxic an investment it would be," Cushing said. "The public is watching, and any bank that supports destroying this unique landscape and trampling the human rights of the Gwich'in will face a powerful public backlash."
"Now that Chase and Goldman Sachs have drawn a line in the sand, all eyes are on Wells Fargo, Citi, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America," he added. "Who will be the last to recognize that financing drilling in the Arctic is an expensive risk that's not worth taking?"
.@OurArcticRefuge called on @Chase not to fund the destruction of the Arctic Refuge, and they listened! Now it's time for @Citi @MorganStanley @BankofAmerica @WellsFargo to #StandWithTheGwichin and #ProtectTheArctic https://t.co/uiDGHvtNnM
— Michael Brune (@bruneski) February 24, 2020
McKibben told the Post that despite the progress, JPMorgan will "retain the title of the doomsday bank." In a piece published Monday by Rolling Stone, McKibben detailed "how JPMorgan Chase became the doomsday bank" and noted that "the bank has been under unrelenting pressure from activists—just last week, on successive days, they besieged the company's Pacific Northwest headquarters in Seattle, leading to more than two dozen arrests."
Chase is a top target of Stop the Money Pipeline, a campaign launched in January by a coalition of climate, youth, and Indigenous groups that aims to convince banks, insurance companies, and asset managers to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. Last week, the campaign announced a nationwide day of action planned for April 23, 2020 as part of three days of youth-led Climate Strikes around the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
"There will be sit-ins, teach-ins, and petition deliveries at bank branches; protests outside of company headquarters; actions on university campuses; and more," according to Sierra Club. "The April actions will be accompanied by a major online push to get individuals and institutions to ditch their banks, insurance companies, and asset managers that are fueling the climate crisis and switch to sustainable alternatives."
McKibben, in a tweet about JPMorgan's announcement Monday, wrote that "these are small concessions that leave them the largest funder of the climate crisis—but it proves citizen power can work!"
Actual big-deal breaking news. @Chase will stop lending for arctic oil, coal. These are small concessions that leave them the largest funder of the climate crisis-- but it proves citizen power can work! Thanks to all who've taken a stand, and all who will! https://t.co/uTwmQis35R
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) February 24, 2020
Asked in response to that tweet whether Chase will still be a target of the April 23 action, McKibben simply said, "Yep."
Opeña Disterhoft of RAN said Monday that "JPMorgan Chase must commit to phasing out its fossil financing on a 1.5°C-aligned timeline," and added that in terms of asset management, the bank should be divesting "from any companies that are expanding fossil fuels, making fossil-free funds its default offerings, and committing to voting positively on climate resolutions for any stocks it owns."
Chase's new fossil fuel policy—detailed at the bank's investor day Tuesday—comes just days after an Extinction Rebellion activist shared with journalists a report by two JPMorgan economists that, as Common Dreams reported Friday, "issued warnings to bank clients similar to those promoted by climate action groups—describing extreme weather events and global conditions that could result from the continued extraction of fossil fuels."