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Major investors insist Europe’s top banks clean up their act on oil & gas

Five of Europe’s largest banks are under fire from investors for financing the fossil fuel industry.

30 investors, coordinated by ShareAction and representing over US$1.5tn in assets under management, have written a letter to one or more of the banks, including Barclays, BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, Deutsche Bank and Societe Generale, urging them to stop directly financing new oil and gas fields by the end of this year. 20 investors wrote letters to all five banks.

The investors, who include Candriam, La Française Asset Management, and Brunel Pension Partnership among others, expressed concern that new oil & gas fields may jeopardize the global path to net-zero. The investors also warned that these activities were holding back the renewable energy revolution in Europe, which they said was more important than ever as the continent battles with uncertain energy supplies in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Jeanne Martin, Head of the Banking Programme at ShareAction, said: “These investor-backed letters should be a wakeup call to banks that have made net-zero commitments. First, they must stop directly financing new oil & gas fields.

Second, banks must urgently turn their attention to the companies that are enabling new oil & gas fields from being discovered and developed. As the letters point out, direct financing is only the tip of the iceberg.

Investors are putting these banks on notice that they will face ever increasing pressure if they don’t act soon to reverse their financing of new oil and gas”

These banks were the largest European financiers of top oil and gas expanders after HSBC over the period 2016 - 2021, according to research published by ShareAction. Excluding financing of new oil and gas fields is an important step towards implementing their net-zero ambitions, the investors note.

However, the letter adds that asset financing for new oil and gas represents only eight per cent of total financing to top oil and gas expanders. They therefore encourage banks to swiftly turn their attention to the companies behind these new oil and gas fields.

ShareAction’s latest survey of European banks’ climate and biodiversity practices shows that only timid action has been taken by European banks to cease new oil and gas activities at the corporate level. The survey found that three European banks have introduced corporate finance restrictions to oil & gas expansion, and four banks require transition plans from their oil & gas clients by a set date.

HSBC, which has an influential position as both Europe’s largest bank and its largest financier of top oil and gas expanders, announced last December that it will no longer directly finance new oil and gas fields following months of continued pressure from shareholder activists co-ordinated by ShareAction. A letter has not been sent to HSBC this year.

Sophie Deleuze, Lead ESG Analyst, Engagement & Vote at Candriam, said: "HSBC’s decision to stop financing new oil and gas fields is a direct result of strong, collaborative engagement from investors. We welcome this decision and reaffirm our ambition to make this the new minimum standard. We look forward to further positive outcomes from our discussions with other European banks that still finance new oil and gas projects.”

Anders Schelde, CIO of Akademiker Pension, said: “Stopping direct financing of new oil and gas fields in breach of IEA recommendations is an absolute minimum to expect from banks that proclaim to have a green profile. We’re running out of time to avert the worst consequences of climate disaster, and the banking sector is still struggling to implement the bare minimum. This is unacceptable in 2023.”

Karin Nemec, CEO of Grünfin Group, said: "Europe learned a hard lesson last year. Obtaining our energy from clean sources is critical for both protecting the environment and national security. Banks must act now.”

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Notes to editors

A copy of each letter can be found here: Barclays, BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, Deutsche Bank and Societe Generale.

For more information about the banks’ financing of top oil and gas expanders, see this ShareAction report.

The amount of financing these European banks provided to oil & gas expanders between 2016-2021 is as follows: Barclays gave US $46 billion; BNP Paribas US $46 billion; Crédit Agricole US $34 billion; Societe Generale US $34 billion; Deutsche Bank US $28 billion.

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