Global banks lagging on climate change action, report warns

The world’s biggest banks aren’t telling stakeholders what they need to know to judge how big the industry’s carbon footprint is, according to a fresh study.

Only five global banks have disclosed the quantitative results of climate scenario analyses to shareholders and clients, according to a report published on Tuesday by the Transition Pathway Initiative Global Climate Transition Centre, an independent research and data provider based in London. And only six of the 26 banks analyzed have disclosed a commitment to immediately end all on- and off-balance sheet finance for new coal capacity, the study shows.

North American and Chinese banks fared worst in the study, with the TPI Centre finding that lenders based in Europe and Japan “are far ahead” of others when it comes to taking action on climate change, according to the report. 

The role played by banks in financing greenhouse gas emissions is drawing increasing attention from activists and regulators as time runs out to limit global heating to the critical threshold of 1.5C. Yet years after the biggest banks in the US and Europe committed to eliminate their financed emissions, few banks have moved beyond target-setting.

Burned trees beside a road during the McDougall Creek wildfire in West Kelowna, British Columbia last month.

The TPI report said it found a few “encouraging” signs of progress, as banks increasingly incorporate climate policies into their overall business strategies. It also noted that more lenders are setting a greater number of targets to reduce portfolio emissions, amid an awareness that climate constitutes a key financial risk category. 

However, banks aren’t including all types of financing activities nor all high-emission sectors in their targets, suggesting they could continue bankrolling high-emitting projects and companies for the long term, the TPI Centre said. At the same time, climate disclosures “remain partial and selective,” it said. 

“Important work remains to be done for climate-related matters to be systematically embedded in decision making across all banking activities,” the TPI Centre said in the report.

The study ranked 26 global banks using the TPI Centre’s Net Zero Banking Assessment Framework, which assesses financial firms’ progress on implementing their stated climate-related policies and plans. The framework covers 10 areas spanning emissions disclosure, to policies for excluding finance for fossil fuels as well as commitments to a just energy transition.

ING Groep NV scored above average for 8 out of the 10 areas covered by the framework, while JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley scored above average on just 2 areas. 

Spokespeople for JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley declined to comment.

Overall the TPI Centre said 20 of the 26 banks analyzed have a net zero commitment for part of their financed emissions, and 21 have set medium-term targets for their oil and gas as well as electric utilities lending portfolios. Some 18 banks have committed to scale up finance directed toward climate solutions with specific targets and milestones. 

The TPI Global Climate Transition Centre is a research and data provider focused on the low-carbon transition. It is part of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, based at the London School of Economics and Political Science. It is also the academic partner of the Transition Pathway Initiative, a global initiative led by asset owners and supported by asset managers.

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