U.K. Financial Firms Enable More Emissions Than Canada Produces

If the U.K. finance sector were a country, it would have a bigger carbon footprint than Canada, according to a report from Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund.

The so-called financed emissions from British-headquartered banks and asset managers, as well as the U.K. arms of international banks such as Credit Suisse Group AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co., totaled 805 million tons of CO2 in 2019, almost double the nation’s annual carbon emissions, according to the report, published Tuesday. The analysis, which Greenpeace and WWF say is the first comprehensive account of emissions stemming from financial activity in the U.K., shows the CO2 emissions from the City of London to be greater than those from countries including Canada.

It’s through their loan books and investment portfolios that banks and asset managers are major contributors to global warming. The greenhouse-gas emissions associated with financial institutions’ investing, lending and underwriting activities are more than 700 times higher, on average, than their direct emissions, climate nonprofit CDP said last month.

“Finance is the U.K.’s dirty little secret,” said Greenpeace U.K. Executive Director John Sauven. “How can we say we’re ‘leading the world on climate action’ while allowing financial institutions to plow billions into fossil-fuel production every year? The claim is almost laughable.”

The research could serve to sully Britain’s reputation as a leader in green finance. As host nation of the United Nations climate-change conference later this year, the U.K. government has announced several initiatives, including mandatory climate-risk reporting for companies and banks.

‘Blind Eye’

“As the host of this year’s pivotal global climate summit, the government can no longer turn a blind eye,” said Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF U.K. “Rather than relying on self-regulation, we need legislation that forces all banks and asset managers to align their financing activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement. That would be genuine climate leadership.”

The U.K. finance sector should be considered a high-carbon sector, “not dissimilar” to oil and gas extraction, coal mining, aviation and transport, and the government should introduce legislation to enforce alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement, said Greenpeace and WWF. Neither the government nor financial regulators have taken “adequate action” to address the global emissions financed and enabled by U.K. private financial institutions, according to the nonprofits.

South Pole, a Zurich-based company that develops green projects and advises on climate-change strategies, conducted the quantitative analysis behind the report using the carbon-accounting methodology from the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials.

The analysis was based on a sample of financial institutions that included the 15 banks deemed by the Bank of England in 2019 to be domestically significant systemic institutions, as well as the 10 largest U.K.-headquartered asset managers. The full scale of the carbon emissions funded by the finance sector is expected to be far greater than captured in the report.

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