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While the latest IPCC and UN Emissions Gap reports both issue stark warnings on the need for an accelerated phase-out of coal power, the global coal plant fleet is still expanding. At today’s press conference during the UN Climate Summit in Katowice, Urgewald, BankTrack and 26 NGO partners released new research identifying the banks and investors backing a frightening pipeline of new coal projects.
“In the 3 years since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed, coal-fired capacity has grown by over 92,000 MW, and coal plants totaling over 670,000 MW are still in the pipeline,” warns Heffa Schuecking, director of the German NGO Urgewald.
According to the NGOs’ data, the finance industry invested over US$ 478 billion in the world’s top 120 coal plant developers between January 2016 and September 2018.
“Unless banks and investors rapidly cut off their financial flows to coal plant developers, it will be impossible to come to grips with the climate crisis. We are already close to overshooting the 1.5°C limit and time is running out,” says Greig Aitken, Climate campaigner at BankTrack.
Urgewald and BankTrack’s research examined lending, underwriting and institutional investments in the top 120 coal plant developers, which are responsible for over 68% of new coal-fired capacity in the pipeline.  All research results, including specific company, bank or investor results, are available at: www.coalexit.org/finance-data
Lenders to the global coal plant pipeline
Since January 2016, 235 commercial banks provided over US$ 101 billion in direct loans to the 120 top coal plant developers. The largest lenders to coal plant developers are the Japanese banks Mizuho Financial and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial with US$ 12.8 billion and US$ 9.9 billion respectively.
A regional breakdown of the data covering the period 2016 to September 2018 shows that 30% of lending to top coal plant developers was provided by Japanese banks. The prominent role of Japanese banks is easily explained, according to Kimiko Hirata from the Japanese NGO Kiko Network: “Japan has the largest coal plant pipeline of any developed country and many Japanese companies are also champions of coal plant development overseas. Japanese banks are thus key drivers of coal expansion worldwide.”
Heffa Schuecking says: “What is surprising is that European banks, many of which have adopted policies restricting coal, still account for 25% of global lending to top coal plant developers.”
Among the top 10 lenders to coal plant developers are Citigroup from the United States (US$ 3.4 bn) and the European banks HSBC (US$ 2.3 bn), Standard Chartered (US$ 2.2 bn) and ING (US$ 1.9 bn).
Greig Aitken comments: “Although HSBC adopted a new coal policy in April this year, it has explicitly left the door open to the financing of new coal power plants in Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh. The planned coal capacity additions in these three countries alone add up to over 103,000 MW, almost one sixth of the global coal plant pipeline. HSBC has to close this glaring loophole quickly if it’s to have any hope of contributing to global efforts to limit the effects of climate change.”
The new research reveals that the bulk of the lending to coal plant developers is in the form of corporate loans, and this type of lending is often not addressed by bank policies.
Standard Chartered, for example, adopted a new coal policy in September 2018, which says: “We will not directly finance any new coal power plant projects”. Although the UK-based bank did not sign off any direct project financing deals for coal plants in either 2017 or 2018, its corporate lending to top coal plant developers in China, Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines jumped from US$ 373 million in 2017 to US$ 1.18 billion in the first three quarters of 2018.
Even the Dutch bank ING, whose 2017 policy commits the bank to phase out all financing of coal power companies by 2025, has provided almost US$ 500 million to coal plant developers through loans and underwriting in 2018.
“These examples show that banks’ coal policies are still full of loopholes. If large banks do not shut the door on corporate loans and underwriting for coal plant developers soon, it will be impossible to achieve the Paris Climate Goals,” says Schuecking.
Top underwriters of the global coal plant pipeline
Although Chinese banks only account for 12% of direct lending to coal plant developers, they are giants when it comes to underwriting the share and bond issues of these companies.
Since January 2016, 238 international banks have channeled over US$ 377 billion to coal plant developers through underwriting.  The world’s top underwriter of coal plant developers is the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China with US$ 24.5 billion, followed by the China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) with US$ 19 billion and the Bank of China with US$ 18.2 billion.
Overall, Chinese banks account for almost 73% of underwriting for coal plant developers. This figure reflects China’s dominant role in coal plant development. In addition to more than 259,000 MW of new capacity in China’s own coal plant pipeline, Chinese companies are also developing almost 60,000 MW of new coal power capacity abroad. And China’s state-controlled banks play a central role in raising capital for this glut of new coal power, both at home and abroad.
Several US, European and Japanese banks that are prominent lenders to coal plant developers are also important underwriters. Among these are Citigroup (US$ 6 billion), HSBC (US$ 5.2 billion) and Mizuho Financial (US$ 5.2 billion). Overall, European banks account for 7.5%, Japanese banks for 5.2% and US banks for 4.7% of financial flows to coal plant developers through underwriting.
Top institutional investors in the global coal plant pipeline
While banks play a central role in helping coal plant developers acquire capital through underwriting their share and bond issuances, the ultimate buyers of these securities are investors. For 2018, the NGOs’ research identified 1206 institutional investors with combined holdings of US$ 139 billion in the top 120 coal plant developers. 
The world’s largest investor in coal plant developers is the US-based investment giant BlackRock, which holds shares and bonds in value of US$ 11 billion in 56 coal plant developers. The world’s second-largest investor in coal plant developers is Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, which holds investments of US$ 7.3 billion in 41 coal plant developers. Next in line are Malaysia’s Khazanah Nasional (US$ 6.7 billion), the US investment manager Vanguard (US$ 6.2 billion) and South Korea’s National Pension Service (US$ 4.5 billion).
“Many of the global investors and banks named in our research profess to be responsible climate actors. But while governments are debating the future of our planet’s climate in Katowice, the money flows from these investors are literally burning up our planet,” says Heffa Schuecking.
US based investors hold the largest stakes in coal plant developers. In total, US investors account for 35% of the institutional investments in coal plant developers. European investors account for 16% and Japanese investors account for 14%, while Chinese and Indian investors only account for respectively 6% and 7% of institutional investments in the bonds and shares of coal plant developers.
The news is not all bad, however. Some institutional investors have begun to act.
In 2017 and 2018, three of the world’s largest insurance companies – AXA, Generali and Allianz – adopted policies banning top coal plant developers from their portfolios. And just a few days ago, Norway’s largest private asset manager, Storebrand, announced a complete exit from all coal investments by 2026.
“The finance industry as a whole must replicate these policies,” says Greig Aitken. “It is shameful that large banks and investors are still partners in crime to companies whose business plans are a blueprint for triggering catastrophic climate change.”
Notes for editors:
1. For a full list of coal plant developer companies, see: www.coalexit.org/database
2. Underwriting or investment banking refers to the process by which banks raise investment capital for companies by helping them market new shares or bonds. Banks usually purchase the newly issued bonds or shares and then re-sell them to other investors at a profit.
3. Among the institutional investors covered in this research are pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds, asset management companies, commercial banks and sovereign wealth funds. It is likely that the investments of these institutions in coal plant developers are, in fact, significantly higher than indicated. Financial databases’ coverage of bond holdings is often incomplete and many pension funds do not report their holdings.
View all the new research results at: www.coalexit.org/finance-data
See also the Urgewald report “The 2018 Coal Plant Pipeline – A Global Tour”, which provides an overview of coal plant development in 54 countries.