Banks and investors pouring billions into Arctic oil & gas bonanza despite climate pledges – report
Angus Satow, Campaign Communications Reclaim Finance
Angus Satow, Campaign Communications Reclaim Finance
Oil and gas companies are set to ramp up production in the Arctic by 20% in the next five years (1), according to a new report from NGO Reclaim Finance (2). These Arctic ‘expansionists’ (3) – such as Gazprom, Total and ConocoPhillips (4) – have, it is revealed, been backed by hundreds of billions of dollars of support from banks and investors, despite many holding commitments to restrict fossil financing in the region.
The report details USD 314bn of loans and underwriting from commercial banks to Arctic oil and gas expansionists between 2016 and 2020. JPMorgan Chase was the biggest culprit (USD 18.6bn), with Barclays (USD 13.2bn), Citigroup (USD 12.2 bn) and BNP Paribas (USD 11.8bn) also featuring prominently. Investors are also facilitating the deadly oil and gas boom, holding around USD 272bn in Arctic fossil developers as of March 2021, with BlackRock (USD 28.5bn), Vanguard (USD 21.6bn) and Amundi (USD 12.9bn) leading the pack, all without Arctic exclusion policies.
The findings come just weeks after the International Panel on Climate Change warned of accelerating climate breakdown in the Arctic, with temperatures rising twice as quickly as elsewhere, while NASA is set to release its annual survey of Arctic sea ice loss in the coming days. Worryingly, the Arctic oil and gas ‘bonanza’ threatens to consume 22% of the world’s remaining 1.5°C carbon budget, while devastating local communities and biodiversity.
Commenting on the findings, campaigner at Reclaim Finance and report author Alix Mazounie said: “The Arctic is a climate bomb, and our research shows that the oil and gas industry is hellbent on setting it off, thus blowing up our chances of avoiding runaway climate breakdown. But they are not the only culprits: financial institutions have bankrolled these companies, making a mockery of their own climate commitments. Since the oil & gas tigers won’t change their stripes, the likes of BNP Paribas, BlackRock and JPMorganChase must heed the instruction of the International Energy Agency and cut off the taps.”
Despite numerous commitments from financial institutions not to support oil and gas extraction in the Arctic, the report lays bare their fundamental design flaws. Thus while 20 of the top 30 banks fueling expansion in the Arctic region have so-called Arctic restriction policies, not a single one excludes support to companies developing new oil and gas projects in the region. Notably, HSBC and BNP Paribas were the top financiers of Arctic expansionists in 2020, despite adopting Arctic exclusion policies early on compared to their peers.
The report’s authors ascribe the fault to highly porous policies. Financial institutions such as AXA and Morgan Stanley have adopted highly limited definitions of the Arctic which permit ongoing expansion, while Goldman Sachs and Crédit Agricole are among several financial players restricting financing only to oil projects, there by permitting fossil gas, against the clear mandate of the IEA’s 1.5°C scenario. Crucially, policies often fail to effectively cover corporate financing, the major source of Arctic oil and gas financing.
The picture is even worse among investors, with only two out of the top 30 investors backing Arctic oil and gas expansion even possessing a policy, signifying a ‘blindspot’ in the sector. Meanwhile, amongst insurers, essential players for Arctic oil and gas extraction, only 13 out of the world’s top 46 companies have an Arctic sector underwriting policy – with even these policies failing to stop oil and gas expansion in the region.
Mazounie concluded: “As net-zero alliances proliferate, this report shines a harsh light on the realities of climate commitments in this precious region. The truth is that for most financial players, Arctic exclusion policies are mere fig leaves, failing to end support for oil and gas expansion. In this decisive hour for climate action in the run-up to COP26, financial institutions need to adopt the AMAP Arctic definition and end all support for oil & gas expansion in the Arctic, be it through projects or corporate financing. Passing the buck will no longer cut it.”
- According to Reclaim Finance calculations based on Rystad Energy data: production is set to increase from 11.5 million barrels of oil equivalent (mmboe) per day in 2020 to 13.7 mmboe per day in 2026 in the Arctic (as per the AMAP area).
- Figures are taken from the report. Data on oil and gas assets and companies comes from the Rystad Energy database. Financial data was collected by Profundo: it includes all financial transactions between commercial banks and the Arctic expansionists listed in the report from 2016 to 2020, as well as investments as of the filing date March 2021. See report methodology for more details.
- The report focuses on the top 20 oil and gas companies with direct participation in assets under development or field evaluation (according to Rystad Energy data collected in August 2021) in the Arctic (as per the AMAP area). They are referred to as ‘expansionists’.
- By 2030, Gazprom is slated to increase production by 14%, ConocoPhillips by 36%, and TotalEnergies by 28%. These figures could be higher if all their assets are exploited.