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Banks fall dangerously short on pledges in new net-zero study

Tuesday, November 8th, 2022

Most banks that have published net-zero emissions targets are failing to live up to those commitments, according to a fresh study by ShareAction.

The majority of the 43 largest financiers of fossil fuels in the Net Zero Banking Alliance “have climate targets that fall short of what’s needed to prevent the worst impacts of climate crisis,’’ the nonprofit said Tuesday. In fact, only 16% of the banks analyzed have set interim, overarching net-zero goals, ShareAction concluded.

“Crucial gaps remain,” including a general failure to apply climate parameters for their capital-market activities and emissions-heavy sectors such as chemicals and agriculture, it said.

The study comes a day before representatives of the finance industry are set to steer talks at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt. Finance Day, which last year was dominated by the heavyweights of global banking and investing, will be a leaner affair this time as many chief executive officers skip the event. That’s as an energy crisis and a changing political landscape in the US make it harder for banks to turn their backs on fossil fuels.

Against that backdrop, the Net Zero Banking Alliance clarified its governance structure last month to reassure some of its biggest members that they weren’t subject to the binding restrictions on fossil finance that had been proposed by UN-backed Race to Zero. That followed warnings from JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley that they’d be willing to walk out if concessions weren’t made, according to people familiar with the matter.

Climate activists have pointed to the development as proof that voluntary net-zero alliances don’t work. The United Nations, meanwhile, is among groups working on a framework to ensure that those making climate claims are held to account.

“The NZBA needs to demonstrate stronger leadership to keep members on track, for example through compliance monitoring and an accountability mechanism,” said Xavier Lerin, senior research manager at ShareAction, in a statement. “It’s clearer than ever that we can’t rely on voluntary initiatives alone. Governments should step up with robust regulation to ensure companies are taking meaningful rapid action to get us to a 1.5 °C world.”

Only seven of the 43 NZBA members that ShareAction analyzed have set overarching interim emissions targets for 2030 or sooner, it said. These are Lloyds Banking Group Plc, NatWest Group Plc, Nordea Bank Abp, BPCE SA, La Banque Postale SA, Crédit Mutuel and KB Financial Group, it said. Even so, inconsistent methodologies behind targets make them difficult to compare and benchmark, according to the nonprofit. 

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