Report Names Institutions Behind $4.3 Trillion in Climate-Wrecking Investments

A protester holds a placard outside BlackRock headquarters in New York on June 24, 2024. BlackRock holds more investments in fossil fuel companies than any other institutional investor in the world, other than Vanguard, according to a July 2024 report.

(Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Report Names Institutions Behind $4.3 Trillion in Climate-Wrecking Investments

"Investors need to draw a red line on fossil fuel expansion and they need to do it now," said an author of the report, which cites Vanguard and BlackRock as the largest institutional investors in fossil fuel companies.

Institutional investors including the Vanguard Group and BlackRock collectively own $4.3 trillion in the stocks and bonds of fossil fuel companies, according to a report released Tuesday by Urgewald, a nonprofit based in Germany.

Urgewald and partner nonprofits tracked investments into nearly 3,000 companies in the coal, oil, and gas sectors for Investing in Climate Chaos 2024, a report that follows on similar research they published last year.

The $4.3 trillion in financing jeopardizes the quick phaseout of fossil fuels that's necessary to avoid unmanageable climate breakdown, the report says.

"If institutional investors continue backing companies that are still expanding their coal, oil, and gas operations, it will be impossible to phase out fossil fuels in time," Katrin Ganswindt, Urgewald's head of financial research, said in the report. "Investors need to draw a red line on fossil fuel expansion and they need to do it now."

Urgewald looked at the holdings of more than 7,500 institutional investors worldwide including "pension funds, insurance companies, asset managers, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds, endowment funds, and asset management arms of commercial banks" as of May 2024.

The true investment total may be higher than $4.3 trillion, given the lack of transparency in bond markets; the report authors estimated that they only included 20-30% of actual bond holding in fossil fuel companies.

Of the $4.3 trillion, more than half was invested by U.S.-based companies. In fact, $1.1 trillion was held by just four companies: Vanguard, BlackRock, State Street, and Capital Group—dubbed "the filthy four" by Urgewald—each of which had more than $160 billion in fossil fuel investment holdings.

Alec Connon, co-director of Stop the Money Pipeline, said the outsized role of the U.S. was the result of poor governance.

"This mirrors the complete lack of action by U.S. regulators to effectively monitor and address the climate and transition risks of large institutional investors," Connon said in the report. "This inaction lays the ground for the next economic crisis and puts the world on a fast track towards climate chaos."

Nearly $4 trillion of the $4.3 trillion in holdings went to companies that are actively developing new fossil fuel projects, not just tapping existing projects, though the report doesn't specify how much actually went toward new development; many companies do both.

In any case, it's clear that new development abounds: Companies have increased capital expenditure on oil and gas exploration by more than 30% since 2021. ExxonMobil, among the biggest beneficiaries of the institutional investing documented in the report, alone spends $1.4 billion annually searching for new reserves in 37 countries, the publication says.

All of this is in spite of pledges to "transition away" from fossil fuels, as countries agreed to do at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai in December. Environmental campaigners are trying to use those pledges, loophole-ridden as they may be, to pressure institutional investors and regulators to take action.

"The question is, will institutional investors continue snapping up bonds of companies like Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil, or TotalEnergies whose business model relies on heating up the planet?" the report's authors asked. "Or will pension funds, insurers, and asset managers realize that these investments will produce more heatwaves, more catastrophic floods, more climate disasters?"

Urgewald is one of the NGOs that produces the annual Banking on Climate Chaos report, the latest publication of which found that big banks shoveled nearly $7 trillion into fossil fuel companies in the eight years after the Paris agreement was signed in 2015. That report, released in May, showed that major banks including JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup together financed fossil fuel companies to the tune of $705 billion in 2023, the hottest year on record.

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