Next week I’ll be at the Klima-Café Plus Lübeck to give a presentation on sustainable banks. I take this as an opportunity to dedicate two blog posts to this topic. 🙂 Here’s part one – on destructive commercial banks and their climate-damaging investments. (For part two, see Sustainable banks – every euro is a ballot!)
What have banks got to do with the climate crisis?
While the corona pandemic dominates the media, the climate crisis continues unabated. Even if the seriousness of the situation has not yet been realized by everyone, many people now know what they can do to make their personal contribution to climate protection:
- Use bicycles, buses and trains instead of cars wherever possible
- fly less or not at all
- eat vegan / vegetarian / low-meat diet
- consume less (and share more, buy used, repair)
- buy regionally and with less plastic
- change electricity and gas providers
- refurbish your home energetically
- get involved in politics and / or society
Another important aspect is often overlooked: Most of us have a checking account. Some have also invested money to save for future purchases or to make provisions for old age. But what do the banks do with the money we entrust to them? Sure, they invest it and maybe speculate with it as well. First of all, this is not objectionable, because after all, the banks must also make money. And as long as you can get your money when you need it, everything is ok from the customer’s point of view, isn’t it?
For many years I was a customer of a major German commercial bank. In mid-2019 I became aware of a report by the NGO Amazon Watch, titled: “Complicity in Destruction II: How Northern Consumers and Financiers Enable Bolsonaro’s Assault on the Brazilian Amazon”. There I read that Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank and many other financial institutions are investing heavily in cattle breeding and soy cultivation in Brazil (e.g. through large loans to agricultural companies) and thus contributing to the deforestation of the rainforest. I was shocked to see how banks are investing in the destruction of our future. I beg your pardon – they do that with my money!? I immediately wrote a letter to my bank’s complaints management team. Weeks later I received a soothing reply in which the bank chatted about how important sustainability was to it.
Half a year later I terminated all my accounts and investments at the bank. Since then, I have continued to observe how banks express themselves publicly (and in advertising) about their ecological and social responsibility. In short, they have definitely realized that they need to work on their image. But have they also changed their behavior?
Five Years Lost
In December 2020, urgewald.org published the report “Five Years Lost – How Finance is Blowing the Paris Carbon Budget”. The report was drawn up jointly by 18 NGOs. It describes twelve of the world’s most devastating fossil fuel projects that are currently being planned or are already running – as well as their sponsors: primarily banks and insurance companies. These twelve projects alone would use up 75% of the remaining carbon budget that is still available for the 1.5°C goal set in the Paris Climate Agreement. (Hence the title of the study: “Five Years” refers to the five years lost since the Paris Agreement was signed.)
And they are all there again: In addition to many US and Chinese banks, the following institutes are investing billions in the destruction of our future on this planet (the number of mentions in the report is first):
- 19x Deutsche Bank
- 11x BNP Paribas (Consorsbank)
- 11x Citigroup (Citibank)
- 10x Barclays
- 7x ING Group (ING DiBa)
- 7x Santander
- 6x UniCredit (Hypovereinsbank)
- 5x Allianz
- 4x Commerzbank
- 2x DZ Bank (Central bank of the German Volks- und Raiffeisenbanken)
- 1x Deka Group (Fund Company of the German Sparkassen)
The indicated numbers show the various entanglements of the institutes in major climate-damaging projects. However, the numbers correlate with the amounts of US-Dollars invested to a limited extent only. At Deutsche Bank, for example, these are in the double-digit billion range, at Citigroup even in the three-digit (!) billion range.
This time I wrote exemplary complaints to Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and Allianz – no answers. I’m no longer a customer who needs to be kept with warm words.
Are they all evil?
And what about public law institutes such as Sparkassen (in Germany)? And what about cooperative banks like Volks- and Raiffeisenbanken or the Sparda-Bank? According to utopia.de, the business practices of these banks are not as bad as those of the aforementioned private banks. But still: ethical and ecological criteria do not play the main role in the investments of the public law institutes and the cooperative banks either. So you can’t be sure that these banks are only doing “clean” business with your money. And in fact, with DZ Bank and Deka Group, corporations from the public and cooperative sectors also appear in the TOP 30 lists (see above).
The alternative: sustainable banks
So far everything is very sobering. So what can you do to have a good “green” conscience when it comes to your investments? Fortunately, there are solutions, more on that in the second part of this article: Sustainable banks – every euro is a ballot!