The Climate Column

The UK government has created a greenwashing taskforce to tackle the climate crisis

The climate emergency is too urgent for such an important initiative to have lack of trust issues, writes Donnachadh McCarthy

Wednesday 25 May 2022 12:25 BST
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<p>Many of the new taskforce’s members have been attacked for their greenwashing</p>

Many of the new taskforce’s members have been attacked for their greenwashing

The UK government’s latest attempt at greenwashing is truly Monty Pythonesque.

Having announced their intention to squeeze every last drop out of North Sea oil while supposedly committing to stopping the climate crisis, it has now launched the [Energy] Transition Plan Taskforce.

Its remit is to advise companies how they can produce “accurate, robust, and accountable transition plans and avoid greenwashing”. The committee is co-chaired by John Glen MP, economic secretary to the Treasury, who seems unfazed that the chancellor has demanded support for billions in investment in new oil projects, whilst he simultaneously wants London to be the world’s first “net zero financial centre”.

Likewise, many of the new taskforce’s members are among the corporations that climate campaigners have attacked for their greenwashing. Both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the UN Secretary General say that new oil investments are incompatible with getting to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Indeed, the UN Sec Gen said such investments were “moral and economic madness”. I reached out to some of the taskforce members to ask whether they were guilty of greenwashing by investing into oil while committing to net zero.

I asked Natwest’s CEO Alison Rose about its £3.25bn investment in oil corporations last year. They replied: “We strongly disagree that NatWest is engaged in ‘net zero greenwashing’.” They did admit lending £3.25bn for oil and gas and up to £550m for coal. But said, “Our lending to this sector has declined significantly – reducing by 21 per cent in 2021”. They added that they had invested £13bn in climate and sustainability funding to date. But in their climate policy’s small print is a commitment to lending to North Sea oil exploration & production.

The vice-chair of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), Mary Schapiro is also a member. It was launched by Mark Carney, at last year’s Glasgow climate summit, to get banks to commit to the 2050 target. But it has drawn criticism that it is greenwashing some of the largest fossil-fuel-funding global banks. They allege that GFANZ’s requirement for signatories to be net zero by 2050, allows them to continue pouring billions into new fossil fuels over the coming decade. Their board of principals contains some of the world’s largest banks who are making huge fossil fuel investments, such as HSBC.

A spokesperson told me that GFANZ’s founder Mark Carney is absolutely supportive of reducing new fossil fuel investments, alongside the huge increase in green finance necessary for the transition.

Aviva, whose CEO Amanda Blanc has been named as the co-chair, makes a big deal about its climate credentials. I asked: “Aviva is reported to hold shares in BP and Shell.  Both are investing billions in new fossil fuels, but Aviva is committed to net-zero by 2040. Is Aviva not therefore itself net-zero greenwashing?”

They replied: “Engagement with ‘teeth’ is our preferred approach to the 30 large carbon emitters that are included in our Climate Engagement Escalation Programme. Divestment may be a simpler solution in many cases, but it is not the way to influence systemic change.”

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I also asked Legal and General’s CEO Michelle Scrimgeour: “LGIM retains substantial shares in corporations such as BP, despite your commitment to net zero 2050. Even the corporations that you censured, you have only removed from "some funds." LGIM publications have praised BP’s "net zero 2050 commitment". Is not LGIM therefore invested in corporations that are committed to what the UN Sec-Gen terms moral and economic madness?”

LGIM did provide information to justify their BP investments but refused to go on the record to defend themselves from the greenwashing allegations.

The government has also appointed executives from the Bank of England who have been tasked to support North Sea oil investments and from the London Stock Exchange, which lists large oil corporations and banks who are investing billions in new fossil fuels.

A spokesperson for Just Stop Oil, who have had hundreds of climate protectors arrested for their protests, told this column: “These executives should be in court facing genocide charges for complicity in protecting the fossil fuel industry, not overseeing the transition to zero-carbon.”

The climate emergency is too urgent for such an important initiative to have lack of trust issues clouding its work.

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