Ginny Cleaveland, Deputy Press Secretary, Fossil-Free Finance, Sierra Club, firstname.lastname@example.org, 415-508-8498 (Pacific Time)
NEW YORK — A coalition of over 240 climate, justice, and multi-issue organizations announced their support of four shareholder resolutions filed at major US and Canadian banks and insurance companies this spring. The resolutions include requiring banks and insurance companies to phase out their financing of companies engaged in fossil fuel expansion, report on projects that could violate Indigenous rights, use absolute emissions rather than emissions intensity targets, disclose 2030 transition plans, and hold directors accountable at banks that are not aligned with 1.5°C pathways. The resolutions were filed by a variety of investors, including the New York City and New York State pension funds, the Sierra Club Foundation, Trillium Asset Management, As You Sow, and others.
Ahead of the companies’ annual general meetings, Stop the Money Pipeline, a coalition of over 200 organizations, is launching a ‘Shareholder Showdown’ campaign to encourage investors to vote yes on the resolutions and against failing directors. Stop the Money Pipeline is also pushing banks and insurance companies to pass policies, ahead of their AGMs, that would prohibit lending, underwriting and insuring to corporations engaged in fossil fuel expansion.
“Shareholders have immediate opportunities to hold banks accountable for their role in the climate crisis by supporting this full slate of resolutions, and by voting against corporate directors failing to manage climate risks. Major investors like BlackRock and CalPERS must support these critical votes, and if they don’t, it will reveal their abject failure to understand both the systemic risk climate change poses to their portfolios and their fiduciary duty to address it. Their clients will be watching,” said Jessye Waxman, Senior Campaign Representative in the Sierra Club’s Fossil-Free Finance campaign.
FOSSIL FUEL PHASE OUT
The fossil fuel phase-out resolutions are updated versions of resolutions filed last year at the six largest American banks and three major insurers calling for an end to financing and underwriting of fossil fuel expansion. The resolutions clarify that the request is to phase-out new fossil fuel financing and insurance coverage, rather than abruptly end client relationships, which some banks and insurers used as an excuse the previous year. Proponents believe these updates will significantly boost shareholder support.
According to an influential report released by the International Energy Agency in 2021, as well as a growing consensus of the world’s leading scientists and energy experts, in order to have a fifty percent chance of curtailing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and limiting the worst impacts of the climate crisis, investment in new fossil fuel supply needs to cease.
Despite this clear warning, and despite public pledges to be Paris-aligned, the six largest American banks – JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs – provided nearly $500 billion in lending and underwriting to the 100 corporations most aggressively expanding fossil fuel operations since 2016. Meanwhile, US-based insurance giants Chubb, The Hartford, and Travelers are among the top insurance providers to the global oil and gas industry..
These resolutions were filed by the Sierra Club Foundation at Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo; by Trillium Asset Management at Bank of America; by Harrington Investments at Citigroup; by Stand.earth at Royal Bank of Canada; and by Green Century Funds at Chubb, The Hartford, and Travelers.
“Financial institutions are trying to project this image that they're good with money - but how good are you with money if you end up destroying your own house for profit? That's exactly what Wall Street is doing by financing unlimited fossil fuel expansion. People are fighting back, and now shareholders have a chance to amplify the demands of frontline communities. Curbing expansion is fiscally sound, socially responsible, and shows that they value investing in resilient communities and a just energy future," said Aditi Sen, Climate and Energy Program Director at Rainforest Action Network.
"The planet is running out of time and the banks are running out of excuses--everyone from the Pope to the Secretary General of the UN have called on them finally to act with clarity and conviction to help with the planet's greatest crisis, and shareholders should demand no less,” said writer and activist Bill McKibben.
The Indigenous rights resolution at Citigroup, filed by Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace calls for a report on the effectiveness of bank practices, policies, and performance indicators in respecting internationally-recognized human rights standards for Indigenous Peoples’ rights in its existing and proposed general corporate and project financing.
In recent years, Citi has provided financing for projects and companies that clearly violate Indigenous rights: they were the lead financier of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016; provided over $5 billion to Enbridge, enabling the Line 3 and Line 5 pipelines; and helped GeoPark secure over $650 million for oil drilling in the Colombian Amazon despite a lack of consent from local Indigenous peoples and a clear history on behalf of the company of damaging Indigenous lands, health, and livelihoods.
Domini Impact Investments filed a resolution at Chubb requesting a report describing how human rights risks and impacts are evaluated and incorporated in the company’s underwriting process, specifically calling attention to the extent to which Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is considered in the underwriting process.
“Free Prior and Informed Consent means actual meaningful engagement with all impacted Indigenous communities and obtaining actual documented consent from impacted communities, otherwise the projects do not happen. The era of these financial institutions paying lip service to Indigenous rights, human rights, and environmental justice is over it is time to truly respect the rights of Indigenous peoples,” said Matt Remle from Mazaska Talks.
"Indigenous frontline environmental defenders continue to bear the brunt of the climate crisis, all while facing severe bodily threats for their collective resistance against the industries most responsible for it. Due to pervasive oil and gas extraction, made possible by unmitigated fossil financing, communities’ livelihoods and lands remain threatened. Investors and financial institutions must uphold Indigenous rights, human rights, and climate at the forefront of its agenda," said Mary Mijares, Fossil Finance Campaigner at Amazon Watch.
ABSOLUTE EMISSIONS TARGETS
A third resolution, filed by the New York City Comptroller Brad Lander and three of the New York City Retirement Systems (the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, Teachers’ Retirement System, and Board of Education Retirement System) at Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Royal Bank of Canada calls on the banks to disclose absolute emissions targets for 2030. Citi and Wells Fargo already report absolute emissions reductions.
These banks currently have made emissions intensity pledges, an accounting trick that would allow banks to increase their financed emissions overall while reducing the amount of emissions per dollar financed in the fossil fuel sector. In order to be Paris-aligned, emissions must decrease absolutely. These resolutions would hold banks to a science-based standard for meeting their stated climate targets.
“Experts such as the United Nations High-Level Expert Group have made it clear that for climate commitments to be taken seriously companies must use absolute emissions metrics when setting climate targets,” said Stop the Money Pipeline coalition co-director Alec Connon. “Yet, most of the country’s largest banks have set their climate targets using far weaker carbon intensity metrics. By voting yes on these resolutions, shareholders can help end this practice of greenwashing from some of the world’s largest funders of fossil fuels.”
These resolutions, filed by As You Sow at JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley, call on banks to publicly disclose their 2030 plans for transitioning their lending and investment portfolios away from fossil fuels. A transition plan could include, for example, disclosure of clients’ estimated annual reductions and how the bank plans to achieve remaining reductions. Additional actions may include client and employee incentives or disincentives; setting requirements, including loan approval guidelines, investment and underwriting priorities or prohibitions; and policies or guidelines that otherwise restrict, limit, or condition bank business activities, among others.
Investors are encouraged to vote against the reelection of directors responsible for climate oversight at institutions that have failed to align targets and lending and underwriting policies with credible 1.5°C low/no overshoot scenarios.
Directors are responsible for oversight of strategic planning, including management of climate risks. As climate risk grows both as an economy-wide systemic risk and as a sector-specific risk for banks, board directors are failing in their fiduciary duties when companies under their oversight fail to adopt and execute comprehensive climate risk management policies. Where issuers have failed to adopt and disclose climate policies that align with 1.5°C pathways, it indicates that directors responsible for such oversight are either unwilling or unable to successfully lead the company through the decarbonization transition. Investors are encouraged to vote against such directors.
Other members of the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition released additional statements, which can be seen here.
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.