Featured image: ©David Mathias

In the year following the global Paris Agreement of December 2015, an extensive study commissioned by OilChange International and more than a dozen international environmental groups concluded that in order to meet the agreed target of a 1.5ºC limit on global heating, no new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built.

This ‘Sky’s Limit’ report concludes that reserves in current oil and gas fields would already take us beyond 1.5º, but factoring in the potential carbon emissions from coal mines would take the planet beyond 2º.

This demand for no new investment has been echoed recently with stark clarity by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, and in the Net Zero by 2050 report from the International Energy Agency. Both are calling for a managed decline of current resources, with a massive shift of investment towards retraining and clean energy.

Most commercial and investment bank financiers have ignored the scientific and economic arguments and simply carried on with business as usual. Despite headline ‘net-zero’ commitments from governments and corporations, the reality is that over the six years since Paris, a total of 4.6 trillion dollars has been invested in fossil fuels, including $742 billion in the last year alone.

In an all too rare example of what is required, the large French banking corporation La Banque Postale has committed to a complete withdrawal of fossil fuel financing by 2030, but as extensive research in the recent Banking on Climate Chaos Report reveals, they are almost alone in a sector which, despite the science, is generally expanding.

Within this context, the annual general meetings of financial institutions have become a target for climate protests, and over the past 10 days Extinction Rebellion and its partner group Money Rebellion have interrupted the AGMs of Barclays in Manchester, and HSBC and Standard Chartered in London.

On Friday 29th April, HSBC shareholders arriving at the AGM were greeted outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall by cigar-smoking “bankers” drinking oil from champagne glasses. Then HSBC Chairman Mark Tucker’s opening speech was interrupted for several minutes, in front of an international internet audience, by activists singing a revised version of Abba’s “Money, money, money.”

HSBC has invested more than a billion dollars in Arctic oil and gas since the Paris Agreement, and last year’s figure of $200m is a 15% rise on 2016’s, at a time when it should at the very least be decreasing dramatically. Offshore oil and gas investment was more than three and a half billion dollars, an increase of more than 20% on 2016.

As well as its poor record on the environment, HSBC has long been accused of corruption across the world, and the Financial Conduct Authority recently fined it £64 million for inadequate action on money laundering and terrorist financing.

Then last Wednesday 4th May, around 60 activists disrupted Barclays and Standard Chartered AGMs.

Barclays is still the UK’s largest investor in fossil fuels, and despite cutting back on some of its investments it still funded nearly 20 billion dollars in the fossil fuel industry last year, while Standard Chartered is the third biggest banking investor in the UK behind HSBC and Barclays, recently expanding its investment in both Arctic and offshore exploration, as well as fracking projects.

Last week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released data showing that the monthly average CO2 level reached 420ppm for the first time ever recorded.

After recording the hottest March on record, India continues to suffer a prolonged and unprecedented heatwave with temperatures of 42ºC recorded in numerous cities and air temperature as high as 46º across central parts and land surface temperatures an unimaginable and deadly 65º. Apart from the human suffering and death toll, the impact on agriculture will be felt across the globe, as wheat shrivels in the heat at a time when global supplies are already affected by the war in Ukraine.

Later this week, Lloyds holds its AGM in Edinburgh on the 12th, and Shell will meet in London on 24th and the pressure will be on for shareholders to realise that their dividends are currently being derived through the wilful destruction of the planet’s future.

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