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The climate awareness campaign Make My Money Matter has written to the senior leadership of HSBC, Barclays, Santander, NatWest and Lloyds Banking Group to ask them to stop financing the expansion of fossil fuel reserves as part of the transition to achieving net zero.

Almost 30 years ago in the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise was reduced to screaming “Show me the money!” to convince just one of his former clients to join him in a kinder, more humane company that was supposed to be about more than just “the money”. The irony was blunt. Ideals are all well and good. But true change only happens when wallets are impacted – whether they are being emptied or filled. 

However, the battlefields of long-term goals like increasing diversity or fighting climate change are littered with the bloodied bodies of well-meaning public relations campaigns, empty promises and celebrity endorsements. The machinations of a trillion-dollar industry are hard to shift by producing a video of a misty-eyed Kate Winslet lamenting the state of the Brazilian rainforest. (Or maybe she could; Kate’s a good actress.)

The climate awareness campaign Make My Money Matter, backed by filmmaker Richard Curtis, has turned its attention towards the top five UK retail banks, which follows its previous campaign to raise awareness of climate-impacting investments in UK pension funds. The organisation has written to the senior leadership of HSBC, Barclays, Santander, NatWest and Lloyds Banking Group to ask them to stop financing the expansion of fossil fuel reserves as part of the transition to achieving net zero. 

The campaign has asked these five banks to:

  • Urgently stop the direct financing of fossil fuel expansion activity.
  • Put clients on notice that they must stop expansion activity.
  • Cease all corporate finance to clients that continue to expand.

Make My Money Matter is also embarking on a public awareness campaign to inform the UK public of how their high street bank may be exposed to industries impacting climate change. 

According to Huw Davies, senior finance advisor at Make My Money Matter, the organisation has thus far had meetings with Lloyds, NatWest and HSBC. They have had correspondence with Santander and have not had a response from Barclays, which they claim has not made any plans to exclude financing into fossil fuel expansion public as of yet. 

According to Make My Money Matter, based on research from Banking on Climate Chaos, Rainforest Action Network and Reclaim Finance, between 2016 and 2021, the top five UK banks collectively funnelled $368bn into the fossil fuel industry.

The climate campaign also cites research from ShareAction's Oil & Gas Expansion Report that says in 2021, HSBC, Barclays, Santander, NatWest and Lloyds financed the top 50 oil and gas expanders to the tune of close to $16bn. ShareAction uses research, campaigns and advocacy to mobilise global investors to drive up labour standards, tackle climate change, protect the natural world and improve people’s health. 

The International Energy Agency has stated that net zero means no new oil and gas projects can be launched. However, according to ShareAction data, European banks have provided more than $400bn to the top 50 companies expanding oil and gas production since 2016.

According to ShareAction, HSBC, Barclays and BNP Paribas provided $59bn, $48bn and $46bn, respectively, since 2016.

ShareAction makes it clear that the Net Zero Banking Alliance has failed to make an impact on this critical issue. Its members provided at least $38bn in financing to the top 50 upstream oil and gas expanders since its launch last April. Half of this was provided by four founding signatories: Barclays, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and HSBC.

Tackling climate change is an urgent global concern. However, looking at just one aspect of that fight – corporate financing of fossil fuel expansion – is a complex and uphill (if not up-mountain) battle. 

Make My Money Matter feels the key to forcing banks into action is public awareness via campaigns and advocacy. The organisation claims that almost one third (29%) of customers surveyed at the top five UK high street banks would switch if they knew that their bank was financing fossil fuel expansion. They also claim that 70% of UK bank customers think that banks have a responsibility to tackle climate change.

However, the percentage of UK consumers switching banks has remained stagnant at around 2% of customers, or around one million a year, according to data from Pay.UK. The billions upon billions of dollars poured into the fossil fuel industry, never mind the industries that oil and gas supports, easily drown out any creative advocacy campaigns developed in a brightly coloured office in east London's hipster area, Shoreditch.  

When global banks and financial institutions descended on the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in 2021, many saw this as the start of the era of trendy environmental PR and greenwashing. Heads of sustainability and climate were trotted out and showcased by the C-level leadership at these banks. 

But real change happens with the funds and industries that gain investment. Banks only change decades- and even centuries-old ways of making money and doing business because of two reasons – regulations or money. Banks don’t make a moral judgement whether they are financing a wind farm or an oil rig (if you think they do, you may be moved by a scene of Kate Winslet in a rowboat on the Amazon). Banks follow the money. Scream that loud enough and they might listen. 

That said, there may be something to be said about Make My Money Matter-style public shaming. Two days after the ShareAction report was published, HSBC announced it would no longer finance new oil and gas fields.

Off to find a good Tom Cruise or Kate Winslet movie while I hide my cynicism in a recycle bin. 

Liz Lumley is deputy editor of  The Banker. Follow her on Twitter @LizLum


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