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Activist at climate action rally

A climate activist with the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition holds a sign at a rally in New York City on March 3, 2021. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Bank of America Accused of Using 'Accounting Tricks as Real Climate Action'

Contrary to the bank's claim of climate leadership, its pledge to reduce emissions intensity is fully compatible with a "massive expansion of fossil fuels," said one campaigner.

Julia Conley

Climate action groups denounced Bank of America for displaying "one of the worst examples of corporate greenwashing" Thursday as the bank released its climate targets for 2030—centering their plan of action on reducing carbon emissions intensity instead of reducing their absolute emissions.

With CEO Brian Moynihan claiming the bank aims to "help ensure a just, stable transition to the sustainable future we all want," the bank announced that it would reduce the intensity of its emissions instead of absolute emissions.

"Bank of America's intensity-only targets, which lag well behind U.S. and global best practice, put it firmly on the side of climate delay, when time is quickly running out to cut absolute emissions in half by 2030."

Emissions intensity refers to the volume of emissions measured against another unit, while a pledge to reduce absolute emissions would require Bank of America to reduce the amount of emissions it is sending into the atmosphere over time.

"By using carbon intensity metrics, Bank of America has set up a situation where its overall greenhouse gas emissions could continue to rise until 2030 and it would still be able to claim that it has met its climate goals," said Alec Connon, co-director of the Stop the Money Pipeline Coalition.

The bank announced its pledge less than two weeks after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report on the climate crisis, reiterating earlier warnings that the continued extraction of fossil fuels—for which Bank of America has provided at least $232 billion in financing since 2016—will put the Paris climate agreement's goal of limiting global heating to 1.5°C out of reach.

"In today's announcement, Bank of America touts its 'history of climate leadership'—and then unveils 2030 emissions targets which are intensity-only, fully compatible with increases in absolute emissions and massive expansion of fossil fuels, especially expanded extraction of fossil gas," said Jason Opeña Disterhoft, senior climate and energy campaigner for Rainforest Action Network.

"Bank of America's intensity-only targets, which lag well behind U.S. and global best practice, put it firmly on the side of climate delay, when time is quickly running out to cut absolute emissions in half by 2030," he added.

Bank of America will face a vote at its shareholder meeting on April 26, with some of its investors calling on the bank to commit to policies ensuring its lending and underwriting do not support fossil fuel projects.

Connon expressed hope that the bank's investors will "take note of this duplicity and vote in favor of critical climate resolutions."

"Like too many of its peers, Bank of America is trying to pass off vague pledges and accounting tricks as real climate action," said Sierra Club Fossil-Free Finance campaign manager Ben Cushing. "The science is clear that achieving net-zero financed emissions by 2050 means stopping funding for the expansion of fossil fuels."

"Reducing emissions intensity while increasing financing for the fossil fuel industry and overall financed emissions is utterly insufficient to achieve that target and contribute to a climate-stable future," he added.

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