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Revealed: How UK banks are ‘threatening’ humanity with £25bn funding for dying coal industry

Conrad Duncan
Smoke and vapor rising from the cooling towers and chimneys of the lignite-fired Jaenschwalde Power Station, eastern Germany: AFP via Getty Images

Major UK banks are "threatening" humanity by collectively propping up the global coal industry with almost £25bn in “life support”, new data has revealed.

Data released by Greenpeace UK shows four banks have ignored international commitments to tackle climate change by giving £24.7bn between 2016 and September 2019 to finance companies with plans to build new coal plants.

Greenpeace described the funding as “indefensible”, while Extinction Rebellion denounced the banks for supporting a fossil fuel industry that “threatens our very existence”.

“The coal industry should be on its deathbed, but is being kept alive only by desperate and dirty funding from banks such as Barclays and HSBC,” Rosie Rogers, head of Greenpeace UK’s climate emergency campaign, said.

The funding from Barclays, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Royal Bank of Scotland was given after the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement was adopted, committing countries to working to keep increases in global average temperature to well below 2C.

As part of the agreement, world leaders committed to making “finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development”.

The release of the data follows a stark warning from Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, that the planet is close to “the point of no return”.

Ahead of the COP25 conference in Madrid, Mr Guterres argued that global efforts to fight climate change are “utterly inadequate”.

Since the 2015 agreement was signed, HSBC has provided £8.4bn in financial support to companies building new coal plants – including £2.1bn of loans and £6.1bn of underwriting.

Standard Chartered and Barclays have provided £7.4bn and £7bn respectively, while the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland has given £1.8bn.

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said it was “outrageous” that banks were still providing major funding for the coal industry.

“My message to these banks is simple: stop funding fossil fuels. These investments are incompatible with global climate targets and will be money down the drain,” Mr Bartley said.

“This money should be funding renewable energy and energy efficiency, so that we can tackle the climate emergency with a clean, green future.”

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, said the data was evidence that the UK needs a “more carbon-focused system of regulation for the UK finance industry”.

The findings come less than two months after Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warned that the global financial system is helping to fund a rise in global average temperatures of more than 4C.

A 4C temperature increase is expected to cause a 9-metre rise in sea levels, devastating heatwaves and droughts, and serious food supply problems.

Sarah Greenfield Clark, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, described the data as “shocking”.

“It is painfully alarming to hear that our banks continue to pour money into fossil fuel activities that threaten our very existence,” Ms Clark said.

“Public concern over the climate and ecological breakdown has never been higher, and yet how many customers know that their money is being used to fund the coal industry.

“This news is a devastating blow for humanity: business as usual must stop now.”

Greenpeace has called for all UK banks to immediately end funding for fossil fuel expansion and to support the transition away from fossil fuels.

In addition, Ms Rogers warned that the billions of pounds in funding for coal plants is only the tip of the iceberg.

“Bankrolling the expansion of coal fired power generation is indefensible - but this £25bn is dwarfed by the hundreds of billions that banks invest in oil and gas,” she said.

“Behind every coal mine and every oil and gas pipeline is a bank supplying the financial lifeline.”

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