Bank of America Reverses Its Pledge Not to Finance Fossil Fuels

Two years in the past, Bank of America received kudos from local weather activists for saying it might no longer finance new coal mines, coal-burning energy crops or Arctic drilling tasks as a result of of the toll they tackle the atmosphere.

The financial institution’s latest environment and social-risk policy reneged on these commitments. The coverage, up to date in December, says that such tasks will as a substitute be topic to “enhanced due diligence.”

Bank of America’s change follows intensifying backlash from Republican lawmakers towards firms that take into account environmental and social components of their operations. Wall Street particularly has come underneath hearth for what some Republicans have referred to as “woke capitalism,” a marketing campaign that has pulled banks into the broader tradition wars.

States together with Texas and West Virginia have handed monetary laws designed to chase away efforts to deny fossil-fuel corporations entry to banking companies. In New Hampshire, state lawmakers have sought to criminalize the enterprise precept often known as E.S.G., shorthand for environmental, social and governance.

These actions have despatched a chill by way of the E.S.G. world. Last yr, huge traders pulled cash out of sustainability-focused funds at a file charge as they shied away from the sector amid conservative criticism. Larry Fink, chief govt of the asset administration firm BlackRock and as soon as a distinguished proponent of E.S.G., mentioned final June that he had stopped using the term as a result of it had turn into too politicized.

Bank of America mentioned in an announcement that shoppers or transactions “that carry heightened risks will continue to go through an enhanced due diligence process involving senior level risk review.”

In late 2021, the financial institution’s coverage acknowledged that it “will not directly finance new thermal coal mines or the expansion of existing mines” or “petroleum exploration or production activities in the Arctic.” It additionally wouldn’t “directly finance the construction or expansion of new coal-fired power plants, including refinancing recently constructed plants” except these amenities employed carbon seize or related expertise.

Coal, a significant contributor to world warming, confronted “significant challenges” because the world stepped up its efforts to deal with the local weather disaster, the financial institution mentioned on the time. Moreover, Bank of America mentioned it acknowledged that “the Arctic is a unique region with specific considerations to take into account including those of marine and wildlife, a fragile ecosystem and the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

That language is gone from its up to date coverage.

The financial institution declined to give particulars of what its threat evaluate would come with.

There have been different contentious modifications. In November, JPMorgan Chase mentioned in its annual climate report that it was overhauling the oil and gasoline emissions-reduction goal that had guided its power investing and was adopting a brand new “energy mix” goal that took into consideration financing for clear power tasks.

Environmental teams criticized the change, saying JPMorgan was obfuscating its earlier targets.

In an announcement, JPMorgan mentioned on the time that its modified goal acknowledged that “a singular focus on fossil fuels will not successfully achieve the necessary transition of the global energy system.”

Global conflicts in Europe and the Middle East are additionally driving banks’ focus past E.S.G. The tensions are prompting banks to prioritize power safety, Jane Fraser, the Citigroup chief govt, said at a recent conference in Saudi Arabia. Supporters of power safety have tended to prioritize uninterrupted power manufacturing over environmental considerations.

“There is a new ‘S’ in E.S.G., which is security — be it food security, energy security, defense, financial security,” Ms. Fraser mentioned. “That’s certainly a theme that all the C.E.O.s around the world are talking about.”

Even earlier than the newest reversals, lots of financing was flowing to coal, oil and gasoline corporations. In 2022, fossil-fuel financing from the world’s 60 largest banks reached $669 billion, according to a tally from a bunch of advocacy organizations that have a look at the banks’ observe information on local weather.

In the seven years after the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015, through which practically each nation on this planet agreed to scale back emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases, those self same banks financed the fossil-fuel trade to the tune of about $5.5 trillion, in accordance to the tally.

Emissions from burning fossil fuels for power are the largest driver of world local weather change. The International Energy Agency, the world’s main power company, has mentioned that nations of the world want to instantly cease approving new coal-burning energy crops and new oil and gasoline fields if they need to keep away from probably the most catastrophic results of local weather change.

To environmental advocates, banks’ backtracking has results past the financing itself. It “sends a very bad signal,” mentioned Lucie Pinson, director of Reclaim Finance, a nonprofit that scrutinizes the local weather methods of fossil-fuel corporations. “Bank of America is sending a message to its clients that it’s OK to take up new fossil-fuel assets,” she mentioned. “We should have stopped developing such assets years ago.”

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