Investing in fossil fuels is the greatest crime against humanity – MPs should treat it as such

We are endlessly told that climate campaigners should be targeting China. But it is clear that the UK’s banks and oil corporations are co-signing nature’s death warrant

Donnachadh McCarthy
Thursday 07 November 2019 13:21
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What is causing the climate crisis, and how do we stop it?

Arguing as to whether the general election is the Brexit election or the climate and ecological emergency election is like rowing over which is more important: the details of a will bequeathing the family home or putting out the blaze that is actually burning it to the ground.

At the core of these emergencies is the City of London. For years, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, has rightly called on the finance industry to stop funding climate and ecological destruction and to instead fund the transformation to a safe zero-carbon economy; one that is not ecologically destructive.

Despite the governor’s remonstrances, the City remains one of the world’s largest financial centres for the fossil fuel corporations. Seventy per cent of the capital investments by oil corporations are funded by the banks rather than by themselves. Bank financing for fossil fuels has increased every year since the Paris Agreement on climate change was signed in 2015.

The City of London’s banks and oil corporations are pouring billions into new fossil fuel exploration and infrastructure, despite knowing that this will destroy any remaining hope of achieving the UN target of limiting a rise in global temperatures to 1.5C.

A report by NGO Global Witness in April 2019 stated that a terrifying $5 trillion (£3.9 trillion) was planned for new coal, oil and fossil gas projects across the world over the next decade. Since 2015, $2 trillion has been insanely invested in the global industry. UK banks, coal and oil corporations are estimated to be contributing about 15 per cent to this climatically suicidal global financing.

The Rainforest Action Network reported that the three worst UK banks invested $110bn (£85bn) between them into fossil fuels in 2018. Barclays invested $60bn, making it the sixth worst in the world. HSBC invested $40bn, making it the 13th, and Santander invested $10bn, coming in at the 30th worst.

Millions of UK bank customers need to wake up to the fact that their bank accounts are being used to destroy their kids’ futures. Years ago, I switched my accounts to Triodos and Nationwide, as my conscience would not allow me to have my income used to fund the destruction of the Amazon and the wider world. When you switch from your fossil-fuel bank, it is crucial that you let them know why you are leaving. Students should drive these banks off their campuses.

Of course, it is not just the banks. The two UK oil giants, Shell and BP, plan a quarter of a trillion dollars of investments in fossil fuels over the next decade. Parallel to this, they pour millions into misleading greenwashing advertisements, highlighting their fig-leaf renewable energy investments. Shell is investing a miniscule 3 per cent of its capital budget on renewables this year, whilst BP is spending just 6 per cent.

To put just these two British oil corporations into perspective, when I crunched the numbers from their 2018 “sustainability reports”, I found their total combined carbon emissions added up to a staggering 1,173 million tons of CO2. This equates to over three times the entire UK’s 354 million tons of direct carbon emissions in 2018.

As climate campaigners, we are endlessly told that we should be targeting China. But it is clear that the UK’s banks and oil corporations are co-signing the death warrant of humanity and nature (what is left of it).

Increasingly, fossil fuel investments are targeting indigenous people’s lands, carving destructive roads into the hearts of their remaining precious rainforests, devastating the landscape, poisoning the waters and continuing the horrific genocide of indigenous peoples.

So, in this climate emergency general election, for any politician to be considered credible, they need to commit to criminalising all fossil fuel investments in the UK and globally. This $5 trillion should be invested instead in the transition to a zero-carbon economy, including renewables, energy efficiency, plant-based diets, circular economies, national cycleways and public transport.

Mark Carney’s proposal that financial institutions should voluntarily declare their climate exposures or face it being imposed on them, is pathetically weak, in the face of the depth of the crisis.

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John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, seems to get the importance of this issue. But Labour’s proposal (as well as requiring mandatory carbon exposures) to introduce higher taxes for trading such shares is also nowhere near strong enough.

Nothing less than a ban on such investments is needed immediately. When your house is on fire, you don’t tax the oil being poured on it by arsonists or ask them to report annually on how much oil they are pouring on the fire. You stop the criminal behaviour. It’s no different when it comes to investing in fossil fuels in the current climate and ecological crisis, which is essentially colluding with the greatest crime against humanity and nature ever perpetrated.

The money is clearly there – what we need is the will from the UK’s politicians to ensure it is spent on solutions and not on destruction. Ask every candidate standing in your constituency if they back the criminalisation of fossil fuel investments and then tactically vote for the candidate most likely to win, who is closest to this position, if you live in a marginal constituency. Make this your climate emergency election.

Donnachadh McCarthy is an environmental campaigner and eco-auditor. He is the author of The Prostitute State – How Britain’s Democracy Has Been Bought

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