Liverpool FC and climate breakdown

| 17th January 2019
Jordan Henderson playing for Liverpool FC

Jordan Henderson playing for Liverpool FC.

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Standard Chartered's sponsorship of Liverpool FC is a cynical attempt to buy a social license to profit from fossil fuel finance.

"It is especially perverse that Standard Chartered's primary markets of Africa, Asia and the Middle East are already being hit by the harshest impacts of climate breakdown despite contributing relatively little to global emissions."

Hundreds of millions of people watched Liverpool face Real Madrid in the Champions League Final in May 2018. Although they lost on the day, football fans around the world were transfixed by Liverpool’s journey to Kiev where they ruthlessly tore apart reputable opposition including Porto, Manchester City and Roma.

In the same month as the final, Liverpool signed a fresh deal worth 160 million pounds with their primary shirt sponsors: Standard Chartered. That’s £30m a year until the 2022/23 season.

Its unsurprising that non-football fans have little knowledge of Standard Chartered. They are a London-based bank, though they operate primarily in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Climate impacts

They boast of 1,026 branches across 60 markets and of employing 86,000 staff representing 125 nationalities. Claiming online that “we're here for good”, its hard to tell whether the bank is celebrating its supposed commitment to prosperity through wealth creation and sustainable development, or advancing a more sinister assertion of the bank's inevitable longevity despite its reckless complicity in social and environmental crises.

The 30 million pounds that Standard Chartered will give to Liverpool this season dwarfs in comparison to the 1.303 billion dollars that they gave to fossil fuel companies in 2017.

748 dollars million went to ultra-deepwater oil; 353 million to coal power; 109 million to liquefied natural gas; 80 million to coal mining; 13 million of this went to tar sands; and 0.5 million to Arctic oil.

In September 2018, Standard Chartered did announce a new policy excluding project finance for new coal-fired power stations. Their policy went further than HSBC's, but at the time they remained invested in two major Vietnamese coal projects and refused to withdraw corporate finance for the companies behind new coal.

We know that the overwhelming majority of fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change. Standard Chartered’s movements on ditching fossil fuel finance are too few and too slow. It would be easy for them to ditch coal along with many other banks.

True climate leadership would mean abandoning finance for oil and gas projects too, along with the companies behind them.

Climate breakdown

It is especially perverse that Standard Chartered's primary markets of Africa, Asia and the Middle East are already being hit by the harshest impacts of climate breakdown despite contributing relatively little to global emissions.

As Mount Kilamanjaro's glaciers retreat, the supply of water becomes increasingly limited in surrounding regions. Higher temperatures in East Africa have intensified droughts killing crops and cattle exacerbating food shortages.

The Middle East has felt similar impacts, with the mass migration following a four-year drought often held partially responsible for the Syrian civil conflict and refugee crisis. While the Vietnamese Government and international banks try to profit from new coal mines there, local activists argue that their country is among the hardest hit by climate change and pollution.

Standard Chartered know that there are far more people regularly watching the Premier League in Asia and Africa than Europe. Over 50 percent of all people in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand watch the Premier League on TV, compared to just 36 percent in the UK where it is based. Its between 39 percent and 41 percent in Malaysia, Turkey and India.

Standard Chartered aren’t advertising to scousers or UK-based Premier fans. When Mo Salah scores at Anfield and the camera focuses on the front of his shirt as he celebrated, a global audience is exposed to the Standard Chartered brand.

Greenwashing

As Liverpool surpass pre-season expectations in 2018/19, mounting an assured Premier League title challenge, Standard Chartered's deal is beginning to look like a bargain for the bank.

Liverpool’s superstar players are the perfect unknowing celebrity endorsements with international roots and global appeal: Alisson Becker (Brazil), Virgil Van Dijk (Netherlands), Joel Matip (Cameroon), Fabinho (Brazil), Naby Keita (Guinea), Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Mo Salah (Egypt).

As well as simply attracting new customers for its retail bank, Standard Chartered's sponsorship effectively normalises itself as a valid participant in global public life. Just as fossil fuel companies like Shell invest hugely in greenwashing PR, by association with Liverpool and the Premier League Standard Chartered seeks to buy social license to profit from climate breakdown and our unequal financial system.

While the divestment movement has held the fossil fuel industry to account with growing success over the last 7 years, banks like Standard Chartered have been let off the hook. This has to end. It may be unrealistic to expect a Premier League club to abandon their sponsor over complicity in climate breakdown. But we should use subvert the profile Standard Chartered borrow from Liverpool to expose the dark side of their business.

This Author

Chris Saltmarsh is co-director of climate change campaigns at People & Planet. He tweets at chris_saltmarsh.

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