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Wall Street's Biggest Banks Failing Key Green Test in Fresh Study

Wall Street's Biggest Banks Failing Key Green Test in Fresh Study

The banks singled out in the analysis by Ceres and TPI are all members of the Net Zero Banking Alliance, a coalition that requires signatories to set interim targets for the most carbon-intense sectors on their balance sheets.
The six biggest banks on Wall Street are failing to live up to a key plank of their ESG commitments to stakeholders, according to a joint study published on Wednesday.

An analysis by Ceres and the Transition Pathways Initiative has found that JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo & Co. have yet to align their oil and gas financing goals for 2030 with a scenario that keeps global warming within the critical threshold of 1.5C.

Banks' continued support for fossil fuels, which is the primary source of planet-warming pollution, has left the industry and the executives who dominate it vulnerable to criticism from shareholders and activist groups. At the same time, the finance sector is under intense pressure from the American right as the Republican Party penalizes lenders for appearing to embrace environmental, social and good governance goals, such as reducing financed emissions.

"Our analysis highlights just how difficult it is for banks and their stakeholders to assess and compare how much progress they're making on real oil and gas emissions reductions," said Blair Bateson, director of the Ceres Company Network at Ceres. "And it goes beyond these six banks."

BloombergNEF estimates that the ratio of clean-energy lending and equity underwriting relative to fossil fuels needs to hit 4 to 1 by the end of the decade to live up to the Paris climate agreement. But by the end of 2021, that ratio for the finance industry was roughly 0.8 to 1, BloombergNEF said in February.

The banks singled out in the analysis by Ceres and TPI are all members of the Net Zero Banking Alliance, a coalition that requires signatories to set interim targets for the most carbon-intense sectors on their balance sheets. All six have set 2030 goals for the oil and gas sectors.

Ceres and TPI said the methodologies underpinning the 2030 targets of the six Wall Street banks "lack sufficient comparability and transparent disclosure" and leave "an array of material business activities outside the scope of their targets, which in turn creates loopholes for banks to continue financing high-carbon activities."

Citigroup said in a statement that its 2030 emissions reduction targets are benchmarked against the International Energy Agency's Net Zero Emissions by 2050 scenario, which is 1.5C aligned. The bank said it's committed to supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Officials at JPMorgan, Bank of America, Goldman and Morgan Stanley declined to comment, while spokespeople for Wells Fargo weren't immediately available.

In the Ceres-TPI report, Bank of America was considered to demonstrate "best practice" in two areas: targeting absolute emissions instead of the intensity of emissions, and setting 2030 targets that align with warming of less than 2C. Citigroup also has an absolute emissions target, while Wells Fargo was considered to exhibit best practice for excluding carbon offsets.

JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley didn't demonstrate best practice in any of the areas reviewed by Ceres and TPI.

To improve target-setting practices, the banks should prioritize activities with high financial and emissions exposure, better disclose the key assumptions and calculations used when setting goals, and issue annual reports to show the progress they're making in reducing emissions, Ceres and TPI said.
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