LONDON – Former Unilever CEO Paul Polman beat up some big banks for investing more money in polluting industries than in renewable energy.
Speaking to CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow on Tuesday, Polman said, “We are still seeing some of the big banks funding more fossil fuels, funding coal than green energy, and that’s a big no-go.”
Sixty of the largest banks make up $ 3.8 trillion in fossil fuel companies between 2016 and 2020, according to a group of climate organizations called Banking on Climate Chaos 2021.
Polman acknowledged that some of the big banks are supporting projects that support the zero emissions transition, but said it was financially rather than ethically motivated.
“People are beginning to realize that implementing the Sustainable Development Goals – which cost $ 3 to 5 trillion annually – is far less than dealing with the dire consequences of inaction. And the financial market is actually the first to understand that. I don’t think they are moving for moral reasons, I want to be honest, but they are moving for economic reasons, “he said.
Polman added that the oil and gas industry needs to be helped to move towards greener alternatives. “We have to help the… high emitting industries that need to transform. I don’t think chastising them will do them any good … it just doesn’t work reflecting a lot of the stranding of their assets that are now worth these companies and helping them make this transition. “
The term “stranded assets” refers to fossil fuel-related assets such as coal and oil reserves that no longer able to generate financial returns when the economy moves towards green energy. Mark Carney, UN special envoy on climate change and finance, said financial markets need to be reshaped so that financial decisions can take climate change into account.
Carney chairs a coalition of financial firms called the United Nations’ Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, which aims to accelerate the transition to cleaner energy. Together, the banks manage more than $ 90 trillion in assets.
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“You see now with the Glasgow Promise that Mark Carney is a leader, that we have nearly $ 100 trillion, which is half the money in the world, and says that by 2050 I want to be net zero. Can we apply that to 2030 goals, which are absolutely crucial? Can we translate that into key actions now? ”Polman explained.
Polman’s comment comes after some of the big banks pledged to spend more to finance carbon reduction. Bank of America President Brian Moynihan said Tuesday the company will spend $ 1 trillion to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. “To get there, we will provide $ 150 billion in funding over $ 1 trillion by 2030,” he said at COP26.
BofA is part of a task force called the Sustainable Markets Initiative that has issued a guide for financial services companies to help their customers achieve net zero emissions. Other members are JPMorgan, Barclays and Swiss credit.
– CNBC’s Sam Meredith and Catherine Clifford contributed to this report.