Last week, our friends at Reclaim Finance published a vital new report which proves that the European Central Bank (ECB) is providing funds to some of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies. That means that public money – our money – is being used to fuel climate change and destroy lives.
The ECB sits at the centre of Europe’s pandemic response. The Bank’s currently spending enormous sums of money in an attempt to minimise the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. One of the things they’re doing is buying up corporate bonds. There are no rules on which industries can or can’t get ECB funding through this mechanism, so we knew that the likes of Shell and Total were likely to benefit. And that’s exactly what’s happened.
“That’s right: climate criminals like Shell and Total are being funded by the European Central Bank.”
Reclaim Finance’s research shows that at least 38 fossil fuel companies have benefited from the ECB’s bond buying programme so far. That includes oil and gas giants like Shell and Total, as well as ten companies involved in the coal industry.
The ECB knows perfectly well that Europe’s climate targets cannot be achieved if we don’t stop digging up and burning fossil fuels. So why are they providing the finance which allows companies to keep doing exactly that?
Just twenty coal, oil and gas mega-companies account for more than a third of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Shell and Total are both featured on that shortlist.
Fossil fuel corporations are also the single biggest obstacle to meaningful climate action. A study last year showed that just five oil companies – Chevron, Exxonmobil, BP, Shell and Total – collectively spent almost $200 million a year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change. And these are the kinds of companies that the ECB is choosing to support now.
Let’s look at Fortum – another of the companies that has benefited from the ECB’s bond buying. Fortum is the majority shareholder of Uniper, the company behind Datteln 4 – a new coal plant which is just about to begin operating in Germany. Yes, you read that right. The German government, who like to present themselves as a climate leader, are still allowing the construction of new coal plants. Even more shockingly, Fortum/Uniper are now threatening to sue the Dutch government, because the Netherlands actually is moving away from coal – which will mean closing down coal plants owned by Fortum/Uniper – and the company is demanding €1 billion compensation as a result.
“The fossil fuel industry isn’t just destroying the climate – they also have a horrific record of trampling on human rights across the world. They need to be shut down, not supported with European public money.”
The human rights abuses and environmental destruction wreaked by Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta have been well documented, and stretch back decades now. Repeated and enormous oil spills have devastated the region, and activists have been murdered, imprisoned and persecuted for trying to protect their communities, land and livelihoods.
Now for the French oil and gas giant, Total. Total is behind an enormous oil project in Uganda, which is forcing thousands of families out of their homes and off their land, and which is built in a fragile ecosystem with numerous protected species and a source of the Nile river. To transport the oil from projects like this, Total is also one of the main backers of the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, which will also displace thousands of people, and wreck precious ecosystems and water sources. Frontline communities and activists in Uganda and beyond have been opposing the pipeline project despite repeated pressure and intimidation.
In Argentina, indigenous groups are suing Total, alongside other oil majors, because of the dumping of highly toxic waste from fracking projects. Shell are also involved in fracking in the same region.
The hard coal that will be burned in the Datteln coal plant in Germany – if it gets built – is likely to be imported from Colombia, South Africa and Russia. As these German climate activists involved in the fight against the plant say, hard coal “is also called “blood coal”, as people living in heavily mined areas frequently endure human rights violations. Ecosystems are destroyed and communities are forced from their land. Environmental and human rights activists suffer under political repression when they speak up and demand change”.
These are the companies that the European Central Bank is supporting. Public money is being used to prop up climate criminals who have repeatedly shown that they care only for their own profit margins, and not for the impact that they have on people or the planet.
We all understand that the ECB is having to act fast to tackle the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. But they mustn’t fuel one crisis while trying to fix another.