fossil fuel finance

Climate activists demonstrate outside the headquarters of JPMorgan Chase during the bank's annual shareholder meeting on May 17, 2022 in New York City.

(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Shareholder Resolutions Push Big Banks to Phase Out Fossil Fuel Financing

"Any climate commitment from a bank that is still financing fossil fuel expansion is greenwashing, pure and simple," said a Stop the Money Pipeline campaigner.

Taking aim at Wall Street banks financing the oil, gas, and coal extraction fueling the climate crisis, a coalition of institutional investors on Tuesday announced the filing of climate-related shareholder resolutions in an effort to force "more climate-friendly policies that better align with" the firms' public commitments to combating the planetary emergency.

In the resolutions, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and Harrington Investments asked six banks—Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo—to enact policies phasing out fossil fuel finance, disclose plans for aligning their financing with their stated near-term emissions reduction goals, and to set absolute end-of-decade emissions reduction targets for their energy sector financing.

Shareholders also filed climate resolutions at four companies—Chubb, Travelers, The Hartford, and Berkshire Hathaway—that insure fossil fuel projects.

"Each of the major banks has publicly committed to aligning its financing with the goals of the Paris agreement to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, a target widely considered imperative to avoid catastrophic climate impacts and financial losses," ICCR said in a statement. "Scientific consensus shows that new fossil fuel expansion is incompatible with achieving net-zero by 2050, yet these banks continue to invest billions of dollars each year in new fossil fuel development—a fact corroborated by a new Reclaim Finance report released last week."

As Stop the Money Pipeline—a coalition of over 200 groups seeking to hold "financial backers of climate chaos accountable"—noted:

A slate of resolutions calling for policies to phase out financing for fossil fuel expansion was filed by the same investors at U.S. banks in 2022. They received between 9% and 13% support, which was a significant milestone for these first-of-their-kind proposals. This year's fossil fuel financing proposals have been updated to encourage banks to finance clients' low-carbon transition so long as those plans are credible and verified. The previous resolutions were supported by many major institutional investors, including the New York State and New York City Common Retirement Funds.

New in 2023 are the resolutions on absolute emissions reduction targets for energy sector financing filed by the New York City and New York State comptrollers, and the resolutions calling for disclosure of climate transition plans filed by As You Sow. The day before the resolutions were filed, Denmark's largest bank, Danske, announced a phaseout of corporate financing for companies engaged in new coal, oil and, gas development.

"Any climate commitment from a bank that is still financing fossil fuel expansion is greenwashing, pure and simple," Arielle Swernoff, U.S. banks campaign manager at Stop the Money Pipeline, said in a statement. "By supporting these resolutions, shareholders can hold banks accountable to their own climate commitments, effectively manage risk, and protect people and the planet."

Dan Chu, executive director of the Sierra Club Foundation—which led the filing at JPMorgan Chase—lamented that "all major U.S. banks continue to finance billions of dollars for new coal, oil, and gas projects every year. Such financing undermines the banks' net-zero commitments and exposes investors to material risks."

"These shareholder resolutions simply ask banks to align their promises with their actions and to adopt policies to phase out the financing of new fossil fuel development," Chu added.

Referring to a warning from the International Energy Agency, Kate Monahan of Trillium Asset Management—which spearheaded the Bank of America filing—said that "we will not be able to achieve the Paris agreement's goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C if banks continue to finance new fossil fuel exploration and development."

"Bank of America has publicly committed to the Paris agreement but continues to finance fossil fuel expansion with no phaseout plan, exposing itself to accusations of greenwashing and reputational damage," Monahan contended. " By continuing to fund new fossil fuels, Bank of America and others are taking actions with potentially catastrophic consequences."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.