Big Banks Are Funding Fossil Fuel Projects — Let’s Hold Them Accountable

Above Photo: Erik McGregor.

This op-ed talks about the youth climate movement’s plan to pressure banks like JPMorgan Chase.

The biggest banks are using your money to fund the climate crisis. We have seen this story before. In 2008, the recklessness of megabanks sank the global economic system. Now, in 2021, the youth climate movement is saying that we’ve had enough. We’re not going to let the banks bring down the entire planet too. On October 29, young people are occupying and shutting down banks across the globe to demand an end to fossil fuel financing and the beginning of a Fossil-Free Future, and we need you to join us.

Over the past few years, the youth climate justice movement has mobilized historic numbers of people. Together, we’ve brought a new awareness to the climate emergency and inspired a generation of young people in the fight for climate justice. We called on world leaders to listen to science and frontline communities and to treat climate change as what it is: an existential threat to humanity. Yet governments and corporate leaders have failed to act. As we get older, as climate change becomes more dire, our movement is only getting smarter and more determined.

That’s why youth across the world are joining together to reignite and build on the energy sparked during the 2019 and 2020 climate strikes. The youth climate movement has adopted a bold, new strategy: We’re going after the banks that fund the fossil fuel industry, the industry driving the climate crisis. If we stop the flow of money, we can stop the flow of oil and gas.

Led by BIPOC and frontline organizers, we’re leveraging our collective power to demand an end to the era of fossil fuels.

The pollution from coal, oil, and gas extraction is heating our planet and increasing the severity of natural disasters. Fossil fuel executives and politicians have known this for decades. Yet the fossil fuel industry continues to expand, building and installing new infrastructure and expanding and replacing existing infrastructure to extract, combust, and transport fossil fuels. From the Line 3 pipeline being built in Northern Minnesota to the TransMountain Pipeline being built in Western Canada, the fossil fuel industry won’t stop ravaging our planet and destroying our communities. Since we know they won’t stop expanding of their own volition, we have to make them. So we’re going after their money.

Fossil fuel companies cannot operate without financial support. They need investors, insurance, and loans. The banks, insurance companies, and asset managers providing these funds continue to funnel money into fossil fuels despite knowing the immediate and long-term destruction their money causes. The world’s megabanks have lent the industry more than $3 trillion since 2016, when the Paris Climate Accord was signed, including the top four U.S. banks — JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. JPMorgan Chase, the biggest of them all, has sent the oil and gas industry more than [a quarter trillion dollars in the past five years](https://www.vox.com/22349601/banks-fossil-fuels-finance-trillions-climate-change#:~:text=JPMorgan Chase was the world’s,of %24237 billion since 2016.).

The role of the big banks in the climate crisis is not surprising. These are banks, after all, that profit from our student debt, prey on and exploit communities of color, and invest in countless industries that undergird massive inequality. However, they aren’t invincible, and it doesn’t have to be this way. Banks, like all companies, care about their public image and reputation.

JPMorgan Chase, our primary target in the U.S. and the largest financier of fossil fuels in the world, cares very deeply about being perceived as a good corporate actor. CEO Jamie Dimon is a Trump critic and so-called CEO who cares. JPMorgan Chase is vulnerable to how we think, feel, and act.

That’s why on October 29 young people are calling on megabanks and other financial institutions — particularly JPMorgan Chase in the U.S., and Standard Chartered, Royal Bank of Canada, BlackRock, AIG, Lloyds of London, Barclays, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, and MUFG internationally — to immediately stop funding fossil fuel expansion. Our movement aims to create severe reputational, political, and economic costs to banks that continue to enable the fossil fuel industry.

And let’s be clear, we will not be satisfied by the usual laundry list of empty promises propped up by fancy words and flashy campaigns. JPMorgan Chase, along with peer institutions, says they will commit to“net-zero by 2050.” Net-zero by 2050 means that, at least on paper, by 2050, an entity would need to stop contributing more pollution to the atmosphere than it is able to draw down. This doesn’t stop them from continuing to finance new fossil fuel infrastructure, which will release more carbon and pollution into the atmosphere, while still saying they have “climate commitments.” They are greenwashing — giving us empty promises and policies we don’t need in order to distract us from the fact that they are taking no real responsibility or action.

The executive director of the International Energy Agency, which recently authored a report on achieving net-zero by 2050, told the Guardian in May, ”If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas, and coal, from now – from this year.” There are no excuses.

This fight isn’t new, and we’ve won before. Because of the powerful organizing of Indigenous leaders, no major U.S. bank will fund drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, for the last decade, college students have been leading the charge to get universities to divest nearly $15 trillion. In fact, Harvard University just announced earlier this month that it plans to allow its remaining fossil fuel investments to expire. We’re building on the work that’s been done by so many in the movement and calling on you to be part of the next wave of organizing focused on a Fossil-Free Future.

By going after the banks that are financing fossil fuel extraction, we’re cutting off the money pipeline that is the fossil fuel industry’s only hope of survival in a world that is eager to transition to clean energy. We’ve seen the limitations of moral and pragmatic appeals: Fires burn down homes, hurricanes destroy coastal communities, heatwaves kill our grandparents, tsunamis take human life. And yet, the money from banks keeps flowing. That’s why on October 29, we need you to join us in bringing our demands to JPMorgan Chase and other financial institutions. The money that fuels the fossil fuel industry ends here. A Fossil-Free Future is possible and it starts now.

Cosigners:

  • Youth REP
  • International Indigenous Youth Council 5280
  • North American Climate, Conservation, and Environment (NACCE)
  • Carrizo Comecrudo Tribal Nation of Texas
  • 350 Colorado Springs
  • Rainforest Action Network
  • UnKoch My Campus
  • Action Collaborative for the Transforming Spirit Now, ACTS Now
  • New Mexico Climate Justice
  • Mazaska Talks
  • Earth Action, Inc.
  • Extinction Rebellion San Francisco Bay Area
  • Divest Ed
  • Houston Youth Climate Strike
  • Action Center on Race and the Economy
  • Ohio Youth for Climate Justice
  • Hawaiʻi Youth Climate Coalition
  • International Indigenous Youth Council – Twin Cities Chapter
  • MIT Divest
  • XRY NYC
  • Zero Hour Ohio
  • Change the Chamber
  • College Climate Coalition
  • Youth vs Apocalypse
  • Atlantic Coast Conference Climate Justice Coalition
  • Oil Change International
  • Zero Hour
  • Iowa State Campus Corps
  • Earth Guardians
  • Jewish Youth Climate Movement
  • Sunrise Bellingham
  • Sunrise Bellingham
  • XR Youth DC
  • Youth Emergency Auxiliary Service-Sierra Leone (YEAS-SL)
  • Fridays for Future U.S.
  • Madhvi4EcoEthics
  • Climate Finance Action
  • Amazon Watch
  • Extinction Rebellion San Francisco Bay Area
  • International Indigenous Youth Council Los Angeles
  • Resource Center For Nonviolence
  • 350 Colorado Youth Action Committee
  • Green New Now
  • Extinction Rebellion Youth United States
  • XR Youth Boston
  • Save Our Shores
  • Springfield Climate Justice Coalition
  • Climate Action Now Western Mass
  • Banking on a Better Future
  • Elders Climate Action