21 January 2020

Stop the money. Save the future.

Guest blog from:
Kuba Gogolewski, Fundacja “Rozwój TAK – Odkrywki NIE, member of Europe Beyond Coal
Nejc Trampuz, member of the Friday’s for Future Slovenia national group


Burning fossil fuels is expensive. The cost they place on our health and climate is clear. Yet, despite the fact that fossil businesses are being handed nearly $5 trillion in subsidies each year, they cannot survive without investors, banks, and costly insurance.

We, the Slovenian Friday’s for Future movement and the Polish Development YES – Open Pit Mines NO!, that as part of the Europe Beyond Coal network works to phase out coal mining in Poland, are striving towards an end to coal nationally and throughout Europe by 2030. In Czechia, Germany, Poland and Slovenia we have seen that political change is hard, and the lobbying power of the fossil fuel industry is still very formidable, but getting Europe out of coal this decade is critical, and getting the money out of the industry (and polluters overall) is essential to make this happen. 

©️ Greg McNevin / Europe Beyond Coal

We need to drag these fossil financers from the shadows, and then we need them to use their financial power to support climate action, not undermine it. Financial crutches enable coal, oil, and gas companies to pollute our air and water, destroy people’s homes and lands, and drive climate change that is reshaping our planet into an uninhabitable hellscape (as our Australian friends are currently seeing). This means financial institutions share responsibility for the damage caused by fossil fuel companies, and these kinds of black marks are not a good look for suits.

If we can’t rely on some governments to act responsibly, we can at least push financial self interest, and pressure these institutions to protect their reputations and their investments. Focusing on financial institutions also allows to speed up change in countries where grassroots face a much bigger challenge to act: Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, Egypt. These countries all depend on the support of European financial institutions.

We know it works. Companies like AXA and KLP have gotten the message, and walked away from financing climate change, but many more are dragging their feet or ignoring their duty to act. We need to demand that they do the right thing. Coal needs to go first, as it causes some of the worst climate impacts and thousands of premature deaths each year. 

A few European countries get this, and have already shown that they go from coal-crazy to coal-free. The UK had two weeks last May with all its coal plants switched off for the first time since the industrial revolution began. So as a country, the UK has had a successful domestic coal phase-out, but UK financial institutions remain leaders in bankrolling coal in Europe and globally (which is outrageous, given that the UK is hosting the upcoming climate conference in Glasgow). UK household names like Barclays, Standard Chartered, and HSBC have some of Europe’s weakest coal policies, as does Lloyds of London (not to be confused with Lloyds Bank) as the last big European insurer of new coal projects. The size of the European financial sector means that campaigning on key financial institutions will result in a quicker phase out of coal, and oil and gas will follow.

This disconnect between reality and finance exists elsewhere too: Germany has a national coal phase out plan (albeit an inadequate one), but utilities and financial institutions continue to ignore reality. A little known German insurance capital group, Talanx, owns a number of important insurance companies that support projects in coal-sick Poland and Turkey, and Germany’s RWE receives financial support domestically and from abroad as it destroys villages and forests, to expand mines for coal it should not burn. While Spain is close to announcing a coal exit, Santander is still financing the biggest Polish coal utility PGE. Sadly, the list goes on. 

Ending finance and insurance for fossil fuels will be the kiss of death for stubborn climate criminals. New projects will fall over and existing ones will have to be shut sooner rather than later. This is already happening where progressive financial institutions are shutting out fossils. CEOs of mining companies and utilities are already talking about how hard it is for them to secure financing and insurance for new coal projects.

The more public pressure on financial institutions, the more seriously they will think before getting into bed with polluters, or staying in bed with them. We desperately need to be out of coal by 2030 in Europe and OECD countries. Considering the carbon footprint of the financial sectors in some European countries is bigger than each country’s entire economy (for example, the footprint of French banks is four times larger than the footprint of France), finance people have some big decisions to make. 

Financial institutions are as culpable for the climate emergency as the fossil fuel industry, and we cannot afford any more companies that refuse to change in the face of catastrophe. As Greta rightly points out: “…it ought to be in every company and stakeholder’s interest to make sure the planet they live on will thrive. But history has not shown the corporate world’s willingness to hold themselves accountable. So it falls on us, the children, to do that.”

It falls on all of us to do it. In 2020, throughout the annual general meetings of these companies, the climate movement must tell these money men and women loud and clear that they have a duty to commit to Stop. Financing. Fossil. Fuels. If they then continue feeding the fire that is consuming our house, we must work together to name and shame them for the arsonists they are. 

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