Today’s HSBC annual shareholders’ meeting in London has been dominated by the bank’s cutely timed announcement that it is considering whether or not to move its headquarters out of the UK. Here at BankTrack, and in light of other less high profile HSBC announcements of late, we’ve been wondering when the bank might see fit to announce an imminent departure from its substantial global coal finance investments – by our conservative estimates, HSBC provided just short of €8bn support to the coal sector in lending and underwriting over the period 2005-April 2014.
Just a couple of days ago we were bravo-ing BNP Paribas as it and fellow French banks Crédit Agricole and Société Générale confirmed they have ruled out financing for highly controversial coal mine projects in Australia’s Galilee Basin. Whether this shunning of major coal financing will be a watershed moment for the French banks remains to be seen. Along with our colleagues at Friends of the Earth France, who’ve set up a petition site for French bank customers to urge their banks to commit to end all coal sector financing by the end of this year, we’re certainly intent on keeping up the pressure following this big Gallic Galilee success.
News this week that the Norwegian Global Pension Fund (GPF), the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund and one of the largest investors in the coal industry, divested from over 50 coal companies in 2014 has come with some unfortunate caveats attached.
While GPF’s ditching of a number of major companies involved in devastating mining practices – in particular the mountain-top removal exponents Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources – and notorious giants such as Coal India are very welcome and timely steps, these coal divestment advances were immediately compromised by the fund revealing the state of play with its other fossil fuel interests: in 2014 it increased its stake in major oil and gas companies to £20 billion.
ABN AMRO will not provide APRIL with new loans until the Indonesian pulp and paper company stops clearing rainforests and can prove that it is operating in a sustainable way. The bank has also called on APRIL to immediately stop the destruction of Indonesian rainforests. ABN AMRO communicated this decision to Greenpeace Netherlands last Friday, March 6th. At the same time it posted a declaration on its website on its dedication to nature conservation:
“ABN AMRO does not want to have anything to do with any transactions or activities that are in conflict with nature conservation. The bank does not finance any companies that are involved in illegal logging or trading wood that has been illegally cut down. Nor does it want to finance companies contributing to deforestation or the destruction of ecologically critical areas.”
The bank’s move follows a similar announcement from the Spanish bank Santander. On February 25th, Santander made a public statement in which it said that it had “decided to not renew the current funding to APRIL and will not be extending further funding at this stage”.
ABN AMRO’s move comes after months of negotiations led by Greenpeace and supported by Banktrack and the Environmental Paper Network. ABN AMRO has now declared it will continue talks with the NGOs in order to further improve its policies to ensure that it will no longer finance rainforest destruction in the future.
Despite ongoing rainforest clearance, APRIL and its affiliate companies in the Royal Golden Eagle group do not seem to have any problems in finding money to support their activities.
UPDATE: On 26th February, Santander announced that it would stop financing APRIL until the company implemented “new sustainability measures which address its involvement with deforestation”.
UPDATE 2: On 6th March, ABN Amro made a similar announcement.
Greenpeace last week launched a major campaign against Santander for its role in financing APRIL (Asia Pacific Resources International Limited), the Indonesian pulp and paper producer described by Greenpeace as “Indonesia’s biggest forest destroyer”. Santander has been singled out for good reasons, but it is not alone in financing the company.
Between December 2011 and April 2014, APRIL and its affiliate companies secured at least $1.87 billion in financial support through three syndicated loan deals, which involved 22 known banks.
Global Divestment Day kicks off today, and is set to feature over 400 actions across six continents on Friday and Saturday. Just a week ago, activists received a notable boost: the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, Norway’s Government Pension Global Fund (GPGF), disclosed that in 2014 it had divested from 32 coal companies.
CEE BankWatch Network, 13 February 2015.
In a street action being held today in Kiev as part of the Global Divestment Day, Ukrainians call on public and private investors to end financing for fossil fuels, in particular coal, and instead invest in renewable energy sources which represent the only independent source for the country.
European commercial banks (such as Deutsche Bank, Uni Credit Bank, ING Bank, Raiffeisen Zentral Bank, Erste Group Bank, RBS and Barclays) are major investors in the coal industry in Ukraine, most notably in the integrated coal and energy company DTEK (see its entry on coalbanks.org).
Since this coming Saturday is both Global Divestment Day *and* Valentine’s Day, we’ve designed this beautiful Valentine’s card for you to send your bank. Post it to their Facebook page to let them know your true feelings! Or why not print it and send it in the post with a personalized greeting?
A flurry of coal news and statistics in the first weeks of 2015 have been catching our eye at BankTrack, confirming as they do that around the world the industry is in deep trouble. Nagging away at the back of the mind however, and based on our specific lens through which we assess the coal sector’s prospects, are a few enduring concerns.
Righting Finance, 13 January 2015.
Last month in Geneva, at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights, BankTrack launched a research report examining the performance of 32 large global banks against the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We developed 12 criteria, each closely based on the text of the Guiding Principles themselves, to assess where banks were making progress in implementing the Guiding Principles and where there were gaps, three and a half years on from their adoption by the Human Rights Council. So far, so uncontroversial, one may think.
However, the Thun Group of Banks, the informal discussion group of banks on human rights, responded to say that the exercise itself was “premature” – at least in its attempts to examine whether banks were meeting their obligations to provide access to remedy to victims of human rights abuse.