An NGO investigation accuses five banks of ‘ecoposturing’ for financing oil and gas in the Amazon | Future Planet

An NGO investigation accuses five banks of ‘ecoposturing’ for financing oil and gas in the Amazon | Future Planet
An NGO investigation accuses five banks of ‘ecoposturing’ for financing oil and gas in the Amazon | Future Planet

Five of the banks that have most financed the exploitation and trade of oil and gas in the Amazon, a sector that has received more than 22,700 million dollars (21,135 million euros) in the last 20 years, they would be presenting an image of sustainability that does not fit reality; that is, they would be engaging in ecolaundering or greenwashing. This is the conclusion of an analysis by the Canadian environmental organization Stand.earth, co-published with the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA). The report is part of a series of investigations into the role of international finance in the destruction of the largest tropical forest in the world and the hundreds of indigenous communities that guard it.

To reach this conclusion, researchers analyzed more than 560 financial operations carried out since the early 2000s with hydrocarbon companies working in the Amazon. They then examined in detail the sustainability policies and transactions of the six banks responsible for almost half of these operations: Citibank, JPMorgan Chase (JMPC), Itaú Unibanco, Banco Santander, Bank of America and HSBC; The latter is the only one that, since December 2022, no longer finances hydrocarbon exploitation in the region.

Our analysis shows how the greenwashing [ecopostureo]; that is, the mechanisms that allow banks to circumvent their sustainability policies to profit from supporting oil and gas businesses, while protecting their own reputation,” Angeline Robertson, author of the report and member of the research team, told EL PAÍS. by Stand.earth.

For the expert, those who inject money into the sector cannot claim ignorance of its risks, starting with the climate, or turn a blind eye based on technicalities. A simple internet search, for example, offers dozens of results on documented impacts of oil and gas extraction in the Amazon, which covers nine countries: hundreds of toxic spills, million-dollar fines for environmental violations, overlap with millions of hectares of territories indigenous people, overlap with protected areas, deforestation.

COICA, an entity that represents the more than 500 indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin, has demanded that the five large banks that continue to finance the exploitation and trade of hydrocarbons stop doing so and assume their share of responsibility for the damage caused.

Our analysis shows how the mechanisms that allow banks to circumvent their sustainability policies to profit from supporting oil and gas businesses work.

Angeline Robertson, author of the report

This medium sent requests for comment to the banks by email. JMPC, Citibank and Banco Santander have defended themselves by referring to their commitments to caring for the environment and human rights, including those of indigenous peoples, and the Spanish entity has also indicated its desire for continuous improvement. The rest of the entities have not responded to this media’s requests or have declined to comment (Bank of America).

Greenwashing mechanisms

The analysis concludes that, in most cases, banks do not know exactly what their client will spend the funds on. Specifically, 72% of the transactions analyzed were for “general” corporate purposes or other broad categories such as capital expenditures or current expenses. According to Robertson, this makes it impossible to adequately assess the risk that a loan or investment poses to people and the environment. At the same time, if a risk cannot be estimated accurately, preventive measures cannot be adopted; for example, denying money, or placing conditions on those who receive it to reduce the impacts of their activity.

The analysis also estimates that banks have less capacity to influence the companies they finance than they imply. For example, a bank may set conditions when extending credit to a customer. However, it has little power in the case of syndicated operations (in which other banks participate) and when its role is limited to putting a corporation’s bonds on the market to attract investors.

According to the report, 49% of the transactions examined are syndicated bonds, the category that carries the least power to influence how the money will be used.

Banks have total exclusion policies for some investments, as well as conditions that are applied selectively depending on the level of social and environmental risk of the activity they propose to finance. But according to the report, 71% of the Amazon territory is basically unprotected, that is, it is not covered by any of these risk management mechanisms by the five large banks analyzed.

“Banks claim to care about climate change, biodiversity and indigenous peoples, but these commitments mean nothing as long as they continue to funnel billions [de euros] towards the expansion of oil and gas in the region,” Stand.earth CEO Todd Paglia said in a statement. In his opinion, the five banks mentioned should follow HSBC’s example and immediately stop supporting the extractive sectors in the Amazon and those who trade with them.

From the Amazon to Spain

In addition to these global conclusions, the report provides a detailed bank-by-bank analysis. According to the same source, Santander is the European bank that invests the most money in Amazonian oil and gas and the fourth on a global scale — it provided almost 1.4 billion dollars in direct financing to the sector between 2009 and 2023.

Santander excludes investments in 16% of the Amazon but, according to the report, the policy falls short in practice: “85% of its transactions traced directly to the Amazon are for syndicated bonds, which lack transparency and reduce accountability of the bank as a contributor to the adverse impacts,” indicates the NGO.

A drilling rig in the Urucú oil district, in the municipality of Coari, Amazonas State (Brazil), last April.Isaac Fontana (EFE)

The bank has previously appeared in other reports such as the Forest 500, which examines the 500 companies and financial institutions with the highest risk of causing tropical deforestation in the world, in this case, by financing products such as soybeans, palm oil, wood pulp or paper and leather.

In responses to this medium sent by email, Banco Santander has stated: “In 2023, we will begin to carry out a more detailed analysis to identify and evaluate the adverse impacts, real or potential, to which Santander could contribute through its activity or operations, products or services, in accordance with the recommendations of international frameworks such as the Principles on Human Rights and Business or the OECD Guidelines.” Santander added that it works with its clients and with governments, regulators and other institutions to help improve practices, “recognizing that this is a very complex challenge that requires a joint and coordinated response.”

In the case of Citibank, the entity only excludes 2% of the Amazon territory from its investment possibilities. Despite having a policy on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, according to the report, the bank has financed Hunt Oil Peru with around 125 million dollars, leading a consortium also made up of the Spanish company Repsol that exploits Camisea gas. , in Peru. As EL PAÍS reported, this exploitation overlaps with a reserve for indigenous peoples in isolation that, according to international standards, should be untouchable. Gas from the Peruvian Amazon reaching countries like Spain and the United Kingdom skyrocketed following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “We have a comprehensive Environmental and Social Risk Management Policy, which outlines our expectations for clients and requires greater diligence around activities with high risks to human rights, biodiversity, indigenous peoples, critical habitats, community conflicts and/or environmental justice,” Citi explained in an email response. And he added: “We collaborate directly with clients to evaluate their commitment, capacity, policies, management systems and personnel to manage these specific environmental and social risks,”

Another entity behind the Camisea gas project is JPMC, which in 2023 contributed another $125 million to Hunt Oil in Peru and financed oil and gas production in the Colombian Amazon with a similar amount. In March 2024, the Americans JPMC, Citibank and Bank of America withdrew from the Equator Principles, a voluntary framework for identifying and managing socio-environmental risks in countries where banks finance mining and fossil fuel projects.

In responses to this media via email, JPMC has stated: “We support the fundamental principles of human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples, in all our lines of business and in every region of the world in which we operate.”

In the case of Itaú Unibanco, from Brazil, the analysis highlights that 99% of its operations related to hydrocarbons in the Amazon in the last 20 years do not meet the minimum requirements set by the Equator Principles.

As for Bank of America, 99% of the transactions in which it is a lender are syndicated and 95% are for a broad and undetermined use of funds. According to Stand.earth, this means that these operations can more easily escape social and environmental safeguards, which can only be appropriately applied when specific risks associated with an investment are identified.

indigenous testimonies

Amazonian indigenous peoples are on the front line of the impacts of hydrocarbon exploitation. In Ecuador, oil and gas blocks overlap 65% of indigenous territories, which have suffered more than 530 of the 4,600 spills that occurred between 2006 and 2022. Oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian Amazon began 60 years ago.

“They promised us a decent life, but to this day, we are subject to a corrupt system that perpetuates violence, promotes the grabbing of land and natural resources and deteriorates our quality of life,” José Esach, president, lamented in a statement. of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (Confeniae).

In Peru, hydrocarbon concessions overlap 33% of indigenous territories, and 18% of reserves for peoples in isolation and initial protection. Planeta Futuro has reported on failures in the systems of prior consultation with indigenous peoples and on the promotion of new lots in the territory of the Mascho Piro, the largest isolated group in Peru and one of the last in the world.

“The State, the banks and the companies that exploit oil and gas claim to do so in the name of progress, but they are complicit in attacking the lives of people in isolation and against the Amazon,” stressed Jorge Pérez, president of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle (AIDESEP).

Fany Kuiru, originally from the Colombian Amazon, is the first leader in the history of COICA. At a press conference, she expressed her boredom with the battle of David against Goliath that the indigenous peoples of the region are confronted with and she recalled that the depredation of the territory is pushing the Amazon to a point of no return. “Where are we walking towards as humanity?” Kuiru has asked, reiterating the importance of the world’s largest rainforest for planetary health and biological and cultural diversity. “Our request to the banks is simple: stop financing oil and gas extraction throughout the Amazon right now.”

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