Resolutions at six largest U.S. banks and several major insurers push companies to cease financing or insuring expansion of fossil fuels
Resolutions a “litmus test” for investors, including BlackRock and Vanguard
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 28th, 2022
Media contact: Jackie Fielder, [email protected]
This April and May, a slate of shareholder resolutions will be voted on at the Annual General Meetings (AGMs) of the six biggest US banks and at several major US insurance companies. The resolutions call for financial companies to align their business models with the actions that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has concluded are necessary to limit global warming to 1.5°C, including policies to stop all financing activities for new fossil fuel expansion, which is inconsistent with the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario.
Ahead of the AGMs, Stop the Money Pipeline, a coalition of over 200 organizations, is launching a campaign to encourage investors to vote yes on the resolutions. Stop the Money Pipeline is also pushing banks and insurance companies to pass policies, ahead of their AGMs, that would prohibit lending, underwriting and insuring to corporations engaged in fossil fuel expansion.
“Resolutions like these are investors’ clearest opportunity to demonstrate they will no longer tolerate companies that threaten us all by enabling the expansion of fossil fuels,” said Ruth Breech, Senior Campaigner with Rainforest Action Network. “These resolutions are not an end point but an escalation. Banks and insurers have been too inconsistent and too slow in their accounting for the risks of climate change, not just to their bottom lines but to the safety of us all. Investors will continue to ratchet up pressure until these companies cease being a party to expansion.”
Last year, the IEA released the most comprehensive study yet of what is required for the global economy to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C. One of the IEA’s most important findings is that “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply” in order to curtail global warming to 1.5°C.
In the five years after the Paris Agreement was adopted, six US Banks ― JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs ― provided nearly $500 billion in lending and underwriting to the 100 corporations most aggressively expanding fossil fuel operations, including Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, and Gazprom. Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America are the world’s four largest providers of lending and underwriting to those same 100 companies.
Meanwhile, US-based insurance giants AIG, Travelers, Liberty Mutual, and Chubb are among the top ten insurance providers to the oil and gas industry, globally.
“The IEA’s findings made it clear,” said Amy Gray, Senior Climate Finance Strategist at Stand.Earth. “In order to slow the rate of species extinction and ecosystem collapse, prevent millions of early deaths, and protect the financial system from the physical risks associated with climate change, banks and insurance companies should not spend a single dollar more on expanding fossil fuel exploration and production.”
In addition to their contributions to climate change, new fossil fuel projects burden communities with toxic levels of air and water pollution; it tends to be Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color who face the brunt of this environmental pollution.
“When banks finance fracked gas projects, they’re funding the creation of sacrifice zones. The fossil fuel industry in Southeast Texas has swallowed up our local economies, poisoned our air and water, and contributed to the increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes that we’re still recovering from,” said John Beard, founder and president of Port Arthur Community Action Network (PACAN). “My home of Port Arthur is already inundated with fossil fuel and petrochemical industry, yet there are several fracked gas export terminals that could still be built here. We need to see investment in renewable energy jobs and coastal restoration, not more polluting and destructive infrastructure.”
The resolutions at US banks and insurance companies are also being billed as a key litmus test for BlackRock, Vanguard, and other major shareholders of the banks and insurance companies. In 2020, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote that “Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long term prospects” and that BlackRock will “place sustainability at the center of our investment approach.”
In 2021, BlackRock, Vanguard, and hundreds of investors joined the Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative, which includes a commitment to a “clear escalation and voting policy” in order to align with the 1.5°C target. However, the investment and voting actions of the world’s largest investors have so far fallen far short of those pledges. While some major investors have set strong expectations for the banking sector, the largest shareholders continue to lack clear, ambitious criteria for holding financial firms accountable on climate.
“All the big banks have acknowledged their climate problems and made long-term commitments to address them, but so far none have actually changed their lending policies to be compatible with those commitments,” said Adele Shraiman, campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Fossil-Free Finance campaign. “The science is clear that achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and averting the worst impacts of the climate crisis means stopping the expansion of fossil fuels immediately. Banks must adjust their practices accordingly, and it’s up to their shareholders—especially BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street—to hold them accountable.”
Between now and the end of AGM season, Stop the Money Pipeline and coalition partners are promising to make it so that banks, insurance companies, and investors know that ending support for fossil fuel expansion is the new defining criteria for serious climate action.
This week, Stop the Money Pipeline is sending a letter signed by 120 organizations, which collectively represent millions of members, to the CEOs of major US banks and insurance companies. The letter calls for them to pass policies to end their support of fossil fuel expansion.
- View the shareholder resolutions at major banks and insurance companies here.
- View the no-action requests on the resolutions filed by companies with the SEC here.
Additional members of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition released the following statements:
“By financing the fossil fuel industry, the financial institutions have played a major role in the desecration of Unci Maka, our Grandmother earth, environmental racism and the climate crisis. These institutions need to invest in life, not forces hell-bent on destroying it,” said Matt Remle, co-founder of Mazaska Talks.
“It’s 2022. Global warming is threatening our present and our future. Ending finances for fossil fuel expansion should be the bare minimum expected of these financial institutions,” said Maura O’Reilly, an organizer with Future Coalition’s youth-led climate finance campaign. “The top 6 U.S. banks have already committed to align their lending and investment portfolios with pathways to net-zero by 2050 or sooner. By continuing to finance new fossil fuel supply, these banks are currently acting against their own climate commitments and the baseline targets globally agreed to in Paris to quite literally save our planet, and youth are catching on. We are taking action to demand that shareholders use their power to vote for these climate resolutions this spring and hold these companies accountable to the promises they have already made.”
“Fossil fuel production is killing our planet, destroying vital ecosystems, and harming frontline communities. The science continues to prove this, just look at the most recent IPCC report. Financial institutions need to immediately end financing of fossil fuel expansion and instead invest in a just transition to regenerative, decentralized energy systems. With the escalation of the climate crisis, business as usual must not and cannot continue,” said Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN).
“Banks’ commitments to achieving net-zero don’t mean anything unless their lending and investment portfolios actually reflect their commitments. The continued financing of fossil expansion is not compatible with a 1.5°C pathway. We’re in the midst of a global crisis while the threat of reaching catastrophic levels of warming is rapidly approaching. At this point, “delay is death” as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in response to the latest IPCC report. This shareholder season, we must see concrete action from these financial institutions to stop financing the expansion of fossil fuels,” said Akiksha Chatterji, Climate Finance Campaigner at Positive Money US.
“Banks like Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase top the list for pouring money into fossil fuel projects that are destroying the Amazon rainforest — one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet critical to global climate regulation. Indigenous peoples have already called out these firms for their role in driving the climate crisis, insisting that they no longer finance Amazon oil and gas. Banks and investors must realize this AGM season that fossil fuel expansion anywhere poses an existential threat to humanity and the earth,” said Pendle Marshall-Hallmark, Climate and Finance Campaigner at Amazon Watch.
“The ways financial institutions allocate capital is a moral issue,” said Reverend Abby Mohaupt, Climate Finance Campaign Coordinator at GreenFaith. “These resolutions call on financial institutions to recognize a higher authority than money. There’s a more important value at stake than the raw pursuit of profit: the protection of life itself on our precious planet. Religious groups around the globe have a clear message: if you disregard these values, you bear inescapable moral responsibility for devastating and avoidable suffering.”
“The banks and other financial institutions which are financing the fossil fuel build-out are not only endangering the climate, but they are increasing the daily pollution harming already overburdened communities on the Gulf Coast,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.
“U.S. insurers like Chubb, The Hartford and Travelers can no longer continue their unchecked support for fossil fuel expansion projects – from Arctic drilling to LNG terminals – that are threatening our communities and climate. This shareholder season, investors, activists, and frontline communities are rising up and demanding that these laggard insurance companies step up and take concrete action to stop climate destruction. As the IEA has made clear, that means no insurance for new fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Tom Swan, Executive Director of CT Citizen Action Group.
“It is clear that more investors are ratcheting up shareholder power to press companies to change direction. We have no time for business as usual and expect state treasurers to join the fight,” said Mary Cerulli, Founder of Climate Finance Action.
“Banks must divest now. This is not a choice, as the future of humanity and every other species on earth hangs in the balance. There is NO time for more fossil fuel expansion, and instead our efforts must go towards a decentralized model of regenerative energy production. The life of your children, great grandchildren, and so forth are at extreme risk if we do not keep global warming under 1.5 degrees. Act now,” said Kellie Berns, Program Director of Earth Guardians.
“Here at Third Act Virginia we are concentrating our protests at the big four banks around the state, recognizing that they are complicit in funding fossil fuel development around the world,” said Deborah Kushner of Third Act Virginia. “We are letting account-holders know that their funds are contributing to the climate crisis.”
“Financial institutions across the continent ought to stand for the next generation of youth and the state of our planet, particularly by divesting from fossil fuels. Youth of all backgrounds come to demand that financial institutions refuse complicity in fossil fuel crimes, and we will not stop until justice for our climate is served,” said Zakareya Hamed, a student and Advocacy Director at youth-led education justice organization Saphron Initiative.
“Why is the Fossil Fuel Industry still being funded? That’s not rhetorical,” said Mary Gutierrez, Director and Organizer for Earth Ethics. “Science has shown the adverse and irreversible impacts that they contribute to the environment and public health. We are in a crisis that can no longer wait to be addressed. Stop funding the Fossil Fuel Industry and make a just transition to renewable energy. Oh and every time you look in the mirror, know that you are responsible for the destruction of the earth and the migration and death of millions of people.
“The science is clear – we have to rapidly transition off fossil fuels within the next 10 years in order to have even a chance of averting climate catastrophe. Yet banks continue to pour billions into dirty fossil fuels – ignoring the destruction and harm that they are profiting off of,” said Matt Leonard, Director of Oil and Gas Action Network. “The time has come to end all investment and financing for fossil fuel infrastructure – not one penny more.”
“The industry-friendly International Energy Agency (IEA) just said that the expansion of fossil fuels must stop this year in order to have any chance of staying under 1.5°C or of achieving global net-zero by 2050. To respect the planet and all life on earth, It’s a small thing to call on corporations to immediately stop financing any fossil fuel expansion whether it be fossil fuel exploration, new extraction, infrastructure such as pipelines, etc. Shareholders need to vote for resolutions that support this need,” said Brian Wilder of Climate Action Rhode Island.
“Large U.S. financial institutions, such as banks, must agree to stop financing any expansion of fossil fuels. The IEA report, released in May 2021, concluded that investors should not fund new oil, gas and coal supply projects if the world wanted to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Thus, while past pledges to achieve net zero emissions by mid-century by the six largest U.S. banks were a critical step towards saving the climate, it is now clear that financing for new fossil fuel projects must end. Failure to do so, likely means that the world’s nations will face climate-fueled disasters as never before seen,” said Ted Conwell, Director at Climate First!, Inc.
“Right now, Ukrainians are being murdered in a war funded by fossil fuels. Sadly, the U.S. response is to pump more fossil fuels, accelerating the war on our planet and all of us. But we have a choice. This shareholder season, high-net-worth individuals can use their leverage with their asset managers– Vanguard, BlackRock, Fidelity, State Street and Schwab–and urge them to vote “yes” on the pro-climate resolutions that stop the financing of fossil fuel expansion. Your asset managers have a fiduciary responsibility to protect your assets from material risk, including the risk of climate chaos. Banks have made commitments to reach net zero financed emissions by 2050, and, with pressure from shareholders and asset managers, they must take action to meet those commitments. Stop funding the expansion of the fossil fuel industry,” said Jill Soffer of Banking for Climate.