Climate protesters face off with US banks

Climate activists have taken to the streets in New York and San Francisco to demand that banks take action on climate change ahead of their annual shareholder meetings. The protesters are calling on banks to enact climate resolutions that will affect funding decisions for fossil fuels. Activists from the group Extinction Rebellion were arrested in New York for spray-painting phrases such as “Climate Criminals” on the windows of Citibank’s office. Citibank is the second-largest funder of fossil fuels globally, with JP Morgan Chase leading the way.

A recent report from Banking on Climate Chaos revealed that US banks have loaned over $4.6tn to the fossil fuel industry since 2016, the year the Paris climate agreement was signed. Citi, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo and Bank of America were named as the worst offenders, contributing $1.3tn in total. This scrutiny comes after many banks promised to cut back on fossil fuel funding. Wells Fargo’s website claims the bank is committed to supporting the goals of the Paris Agreement and helping transition to a net-zero carbon economy. Citi has established its image as a climate-conscious financial organization and has committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Activists argue that banks are engaging in “greenwashing” by marketing themselves as pro-climate when their actions suggest otherwise. Mark Graham, a former managing director at Citigroup and a member of Extinction Rebellion since 2019, stated that financial companies are at the intersection of funding climate chaos and that they are the pressure point that activists can work on. He hopes to get employees to realize they have power and to change radically.

With the need to transition to a low-carbon economy becoming increasingly urgent, pressure is mounting on financial organizations to act decisively. While some banks have made commitments to reduce fossil fuel funding, activists believe they are not doing enough. The actions of climate protesters are a signal to banks that their shareholders and customers expect them to take decisive action to combat climate change.

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