Not only is it unwise to keep doing something that 80% of your potential customer base thinks is immoral, it also will soon make very little financial sense too
British high street banks have spent a lot of time and money rebuilding their battered brands following the financial crisis ten years ago.
But they are in danger of tipping themselves into the mire once again with their environmentally damaging investments which are viewed as immoral by large swathes of the public.
ComRes polling commissioned by Christian Aid reveals that:
- 78 percent of the public believe that investing in companies which cause dangerous climate change is morally wrong no matter how profitable it is.
- 80 percent (four out of five) say they do not want banks to use their savings to invest in projects that damage the environment, and:
- 81% hold bank CEOs responsible for ensuring their investments don't cause environment damage.
It's particularly galling to see the big four banks - Barclays, RBS, Lloyds and HSBC - announcing profit rises of up to 40 percent this week while communities from South Asia to the Caribbean continue to count the cost of extreme weather in lives lost and massive clean-up bills.
Profit from pollution
America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported that there have been 15 weather and climate disaster events in the US alone this year where, total financial losses exceeded $1bn each.
A new Christian Aid report, out today, shows how Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and RBS are all funding the companies behind the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia, the coal from which generates nearly the equivalent carbon pollution in a year as Colombia's entire national emissions.
Although communities in the developing world are not the cause of climate breakdown, cruelly they are the ones suffering the most impacts - and they are starting to shift their investments accordingly.
The Archbishop of Cape Town, Most Reverend Thabo Makgoba, leads the Province of Southern Africa which recently decided to divest all its fossil fuel investments on climate grounds.
He said: "Climate change is hurting people in the developing world first and worst. In response to this we are divesting from fossil fuels and can no longer profit from pollution.
"But in Britain UK banks are still propping up coal mines which are driving the climate change we suffer from. This is morally questionable and they have a responsibility to clean up their act."
The big four high street banks have all signed up the pledge to support the goals of the Paris Agreement but their investment practices have barely changed.
Banks have a vital role to play in providing the crucial lending facilities to companies that do the very opposite of leaving fossil fuels in the ground.
Last month former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres called on banks to invest a ratio of 2:1 in favour of green investments over brown investments to avoid an economic cliff edge.
Speaking at an event on sustainable finance in Europe she said banks needed to do some heavy lifting out of economic self-interest.
Bury their heads
And this is the crucial point. Not only is it unwise to keep doing something that 80 percent of your potential customer base thinks is immoral, it also will soon make very little financial sense too.
Hannah McKinnon, Energy Futures & Transitions Director at Oil Change International pointed out: "The fossil fuel era is coming to an end.
"Banks should be looking for every opportunity to shift investments before the ship sinks: along with a worthless portfolio of stranded assets, there will be a massive moral price tag for those that insist on trying to be the last one out.
"Financing the climate crisis is an inexcusable ethical decision and a reckless financial one, banks too can decide which side of history they want to be on."
And it's not just climate organisations saying this. Last month the editor of The Banker magazine, Brian Caplen warned that banks faced an existential crisis if they continue to bury their heads in the sand.
"Under clean-energy scenarios, oil majors become rather less blue-chip to lend to than those engaged in the technologies of the future - for example renewable energy, electric cars and insulation," he argued.
"In these sectors, there are big opportunities with one estimate putting the investment needed to transition to a lower carbon economy at $1,000bn each year for the foreseeable future.
"This figure is not something dreamed up by an idealistically green organisation - it comes from the Financial Stability Board's Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, chaired by Michael Bloomberg."
Some banks are showing there's an alternative to doing business without fouling up the planet. Triodos don't lend to companies that make more than 5 percent of their revenue from extracting, producing, selling or generating electricity from oil, gas or coal while 23 percent of its loans support renewable energy projects.
Maybe with enough pressure from the majority of the public that think it's immoral to profit from climate change the high street banks will follow suit.
Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid. He is on twitter @wareisjoe. To join the Big Shift campaign and write to the CEOs of the big four banks, visit the website. You can also view the spoof bank TV ad that Christian Aid has produced.