Europe’s largest bank vows to stop funding new oil projects globally

London-based HSBC, the largest bank in Europe and the 8th largest bank in the world, has announced that it will stop funding any new oil and gas developments globally.

HSBC is the largest bank in Britain, and in Europe as a whole. It’s the 8th-largest bank in the world and the 4th-largest outside of China. It manages about $3 trillion in assets, just behind Bank of America, and it has subsidiaries all around the globe, including a major one based in Dubai, in the heart of the world oil industry.

The bank’s new policy applies specifically to new oil and gas field projects and any related infrastructure meant to support those new fields. It will continue to provide consulting and financing to energy companies at the corporate level, even if they are in the oil business.

HSBC said on Wednesday:

“We will no longer provide new lending or capital markets finance for the specific purpose of projects pertaining to new oil and gas fields and related infrastructure when the primary use is in conjunction with new fields… Given the parallel urgency of today’s global energy crisis, we plan to accelerate our activities in renewable energy and clean infrastructure, aligned with our previously announced ambition to provide $750 billion to $1 trillion in sustainable finance and investment by 2030.”

HSBC has previously announced an ambition to provide up to $1 trillion in “sustainable finance and investment” by 2030, targeting net zero emissions across its customer base by 2050 at the latest. It also wants its own operations to be net zero by 2030.

This is the latest and perhaps the largest move in the growing fossil fuel divestment movement, which has encouraged banks and other organizations like pension funds, churches, and schools to remove funding and investments from fossil fuel projects. Before today, institutions representing some $40 trillion have divested from fossil fuels.

The goal is to make it harder for oil companies to do business, as despite their significant wealth, companies at all levels of the oil industry do still use financing to make projects happen.

This has also sparked an “anti-divestment” movement in some areas. Texas recently passed a law attempting to make oil divestment illegal, and recently Florida pulled $2 billion in state funds from Blackrock, a fund that manages $8 trillion in assets, as a protest against their environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) policies, which Florida claimed were too strong. This despite Miami, Florida’s largest metro area and the state’s economic powerhouse, being perhaps the most vulnerable city to climate change in the world.

Previously, HSBC was a fairly large investor in fossil projects. According to the Banking on Climate Chaos report released this year, HSBC ranked 13th in the world in funding fossil fuel projects over the last 6 years. This is disproportionately-low compared to its 8th-place size in world banking, but still a big chunk of money for fossil projects. The list is led by four US banks – JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America. Environmental groups are now calling on those banks to limit or stop their financing of fossil fuel projects, hoping that they will follow HSBC’s lead.

Electrek’s Take

This is clearly a positive move, and will hopefully influence other banks at all levels to join up with the divestment campaign.

However, divestment is not enough. The fact of the matter is, as long as oil demand exists, oil companies will exist to serve that demand. Even if almost everyone refuses to fund them, as long as people are still using oil, someone will fill that gap.

We saw this over the course of the last year, with oil supply being down due to the impact of COVID-19, and demand being high as people started to do more traveling and demanding more goods. This resulted in oil prices going up, which meant more profits for oil companies.

So the top-down approach won’t work alone. We can starve oil companies of funding as much as we want, but if people continue buying oil they will find a way to make money.

This is why we must transition away from fossil fuels in every way possible. First and foremost, we need to electrify transportation, which is the largest consumer of oil – some 70% of oil usage in the US is related to the transportation, with most of that going towards personal vehicles. We need to electrify homes and businesses as well, and stop using gas to run the grid, but the main thing is transportation.

And that’s why we’re here, doing what we do, at Electrek. The best way to stop the oil industry is to stop burning oil in cars.

But let’s keep divesting as well. The more prongs in the approach, the better.

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Avatar for Jameson Dow Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for electrek.co since 2016.

You can contact him at jamie@electrek.co