Banks and Nature
A global emergency…
Our planet is rapidly heading towards ecological breakdown. The United Nations estimates that the extinction rate of plant and animal species is now between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. Untouched wilderness areas are fast disappearing, with human activity having already significantly altered three-quarters of all land and impacted two-thirds of the seas and oceans. Industrial farming and fishing, resource extraction and waste disposal, rapid urbanisation, industrial production and power generation, transport infrastructure, and ever expanding tourism all severely impact on the condition of temperate and tropical forests, peatlands, wetlands, coral reefs, rivers, oceans and other ecosystems on which we, and all other species, depend upon. Sadly, their condition is deteriorating more rapidly than ever and is further aggravated by steadily rising global average temperatures due to accelerating climate change.
…linked to other emergencies
The crisis of nature cannot be separated from other global emergencies. Climate-related disasters such as forest fires, droughts and floods destroy and disrupt ecosystems globally. At the same time, effectively tackling the climate crisis requires protecting and restoring ecosystems, not just because forests, peatlands and oceans store vast amounts of carbon, but also because healthy ecosystems act as buffers against extreme weather, protecting houses, crops, water supplies and vital infrastructure. Preserving intact wilderness areas from human interference and encroachment is also crucial to reduce the risk of new pandemics emerging.
Effectively protecting and restoring nature requires strengthening human rights, in particular those of the Indigenous peoples and local communities that are on the front line. Indigenous peoples embody and nurture 80% of the world’s cultural and biological diversity, whilst only occupying 20% of the world’s land surface and comprising less than 5% of the world’s population. As traditional custodians of the land, their role must be central in any attempt to preserve nature, yet their rights are continually violated by the colonial, extractive and industrial activities of the fossil fuel, agro commodities- and other high impact sectors operating on their territories, often without their consent. Every day, land and environmental defenders are facing a host of human rights violations in efforts to silence their calls to protect their way of life - on average four are killed each week. If protection and restoration of nature is our best chance at keeping our planet habitable, then we must learn from the expertise of those who best protect these most valuable ecosystems.
Role of banks
Through their lending decisions and client selection, banks are in a key position to help preserve nature. Despite the acute crises we find ourselves in, many banks continue to finance habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, and turn a blind eye to associated human and Indigenous rights violations. Banks continue to funnel finance into high impact sectors, including agro commodities such as beef, soy, palm oil, and pulp & paper; metal and mineral mining; fossil fuels; and large scale infrastructure. They also provide finance to the forest biomass industry, which is often falsely represented as a form of renewable energy.
Banks can help protect and restore nature if they stop financing harmful activities in high-risk sectors and develop robust policies and practices that guide them towards financing sectors and clients that protect and strengthen nature.
What banks must do
The overall aim of the Banks and Nature campaign is for banks to protect nature and end bank finance for nature destruction. To achieve this, banks must:
- Explicitly acknowledge the urgency and severity of the biodiversity crisis and acknowledge their responsibility to ensure that the activities they finance do not lead to further ecosystem destruction and extinction;
- Actively support and formally commit to align their business with the goals and targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Global Biodiversity Framework;
- Adopt methodologies to measure and report the impact of investments and financing activities on biodiversity, setting concrete and time-bound targets to reduce this impact;
- Strengthen sector finance policies for high impact industries to ensure they adequately safeguard biodiversity, including proper due diligence impact assessments for each sector, and respect the rights of Indigenous peoples, local communities, and human and environmental defenders;
- Exclude finance for specific very high impact business activities and adopt No-Go policies which prohibit any direct or indirect financing related to unsustainable, extractive, industrial, environmentally, and/or socially harmful activities in or which may potentially impact high level biodiverse areas;
- Not provide finance to or rely upon carbon and biodiversity offset projects based on the concept of “no net loss” to achieve net-zero targets or mitigate project impacts.
What BankTrack does
BankTrack’s Banks and Nature campaign challenges commercial banks to act urgently and decisively to protect nature by ending finance for nature destruction. We do this through:
Analysing bank policies in high-impact sectors such as beef, pulp and paper, and biomass, and pushing for banks to improve their policies and exclude finance for certain high-impact activities. The Forest & Finance coalition, of which BankTrack is a member, conducts policy assessments of 200 financial institutions that have significant financial exposure to forest-risk sectors in Southeast Asia, Central and West Africa and parts of South America. We use this analysis to benchmark the commercial banks against each other and to engage with banks on improving their policies. You can see banks’ overall policy scores here, and scores specifically for beef, palm oil and pulp & paper on the corresponding pages.
Campaigning on Dodgy Deals, projects and companies with an adverse environmental, social and other impacts. We target bank financiers of these companies in order to push banks to exclude these companies from their financing portfolios or use their leverage to improve client performance. We work together with our partners in different coalitions to conduct our dodgy deal campaigns. Some examples include the Brazilian meat-packing company JBS and the energy company Drax that is involved in the burning of wood for energy.
Engaging with banks and banking initiatives to raise the standards banks are setting, either in their own policies or as part of nature-related initiatives within the financial sector. For example, together with partners such as Global Witness and Rainforest Action Network we have been engaged with the consultation process of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) in 2022 - 2023. In addition, we will utilise the various banking initiatives that we track as part of our work (e.g. the Equator Principles, the Principles for Responsible Banking) to seek further commitments on nature and biodiversity protection.
Supporting fellow civil society organisations from around the world who aim to challenge banks to stop financing nature destruction. Some of our partners include: the Forest & Finance coalition; the Banks & Biodiversity coalition; the Environmental Paper Network and the Drop JBS coalition. For more information on our different campaign topics, see the further sections below.