Banks that finance the fossil fuel industry: what can be done? 

The impact of the fossil fuel industry was covered up for years. As early as the 1970s, scientists employed by ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies warned of the harmful effects of excessive fossil fuel use. In response, fossil fuel companies launched disinformation campaigns designed to weaken public pressure, comparable to the disinformation campaigns of the tabacco industry, in which doctors said quitting smoking was linked to worsened health.

In the 1970s, the impact of fossil fuels on the environment posed “an existential threat” to major energy corporations like ExxonMobil. By 2022, that threat has spread to the entire human race and even life on Earth. Now, all the information is readily available. We know that the burning of oil, coal, and gas are a primary cause of atmospheric warming. We know that the extraction of these raw materials often imperils indigenous communities. We know that the burning of fossil fuels cannot be sustained. But some institutions – and the energy companies they bankroll – are still willing to look the other way. Ultimately it is money that keeps the business running. Banks are vital for the large investments that energy infrastructures require, which is why divestment can lead to the end of fossil fuels. 

Presently, the world’s 60 biggest banks continue to fund “climate chaos”. According to a recent report, backed by over 500 organisations and led by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), these 60 banks have poured $4.58 trillion into the fossil fuel industry over the last 5 years.  Among them are three Spanish banks: Santander has been financing the fossil fuel industry with 42.9 billion dollars (remarkably, instead of phasing-out, they have been increasing their financing); BBVA with 26.2 billion dollars and Caixabank with 5.4 billion dollars. Collectively, the biggest global banks invest in companies like BP, Chevron, Eni, Equinor, Repsol, Shell, TotalEnergies and of course, ExxonMobil.

The track record for these 8 energy giants is appalling. To use one example: petrochemical company, Repsol, topped the list of Spanish super-emitters in 2020 with an output of 11 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide. Then at the start of this year, it concealed a devasting oil spill off the coast of Peru. Repsol’s initial reports stated that just 7 gallons of oil had been spilled; the real amount was found to be 60,000 times higher. 

Here in Catalonia, Repsol have shown support for the MidCat pipeline, which in their eyes, is a logical replacement to the natural gas supplied by Russia. Does it really make sense to continue developing infrastructures that move us away from our main objective: a fair and clean energy transition? The development of big projects like the MidCat gas pipeline would be impossible without banks. The first part of the MidCat and other 7 big gas and coal projects arround Europe have been built thanks to at least $5.15 billion from Caixabank, $12.37 billion from Santander, and $5.77 billion from BBVA,    between 2012-2017

Meanwhile, many banks are engaged in a kind of doublethink, or daydream. 44 out of the top 60 have signed up to 2050 Net-Zero pledges and some claim that corporate banking will play a vital role in the fight against climate change. It absolutely must, but as their investments show, it doesn’t. Fossil fuel finance is on the rise. The RAN report explains, “long-term commitments cannot serve as cover for short-term continuation of business as usual; if they do, they are simply greenwashing.” 

Greenwashing – misleading claims from companies who want you to believe their products are more sustainable than they are.

Here, the product is banking. We give our money to banks, entrusting them with the task of protecting it, growing it, investing it. While we may not stop to think about where that money is going, when we do, we’re met with a barrier of carefully crafted slogans that pledge allegiance with climate goals, while inwardly betting against them. The World’s Top Banks care more about their image than they do about rainforests, about indigenous people, about greenhouse gases, about a habitable planet.

About truth. About action. About survival. 

Accordingly, XR Barcelona has decided to stand up to the financial insitutions that are directly funding the Climate Crisis. We demand accountability. And you can too.

“We can and must succeed in catalysing a peaceful revolution to end the era of fossil fuels, nature extraction and capitalism. Life on Earth depends on it.” – Farhana Yamin (2019)

3 Ways To Act

1. Move to an ethical bank

If you hold an account with one of the top fossil fuel banks from Spain (Santander, BBVA, and Caixabank) it’s time to demand better! The alternatives already exist. Though we’re unable to recommend one bank over another, you can use to find an ethical bank that matches your needs and for access to further information on ethical finance. 

When leaving your existing bank, write a statement signalling exactly why you are doing so – clearly noting the bank’s investments in fossil fuels. Without public pressure, they are unlikely to divest.  

If you are unable to make this change, move to an ethical investment fund of the same bank.

2. Directly finance renewable energy projects and local co-operatives 

This is a powerful and important action to consider. You can cut out the middle man and support projects that are making a genuine difference to emissions reductions.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” – Frederick Douglass (1857)

3. Speak truth to power

Join us in our forthcoming rebellion against Spanish banks with investments in the fossil fuel industry. We will protest peacefully, joyfully, and in unison, using tactics of civil disobedience to make our voices heard. Above all, we need numbers to make a difference!