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As Banks Bail Out of Net Zero Climate Commitments, Groups Call on Treasury for Action

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The U.S. Department of the Treasury must push banks harder on their commitments to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, activists argue in a letter sent today to Treasury officials. The letter, signed by nearly 80 organizations, calls on the Treasury to push financial institutions to transition toward supporting and advancing a green economy.

“The majority of US financial firms are at best paying lip service to climate action, with many reneging their commitments when pressed to actually reduce emissions,” said the groups in the letter. “Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that the umbrella term of ‘net zero’ is being used to allow false solutions, such as forest offsets, rather than stopping the expansion of the causes of climate change.” 

In the letter, which was signed by Positive Money US, Public Citizen, Rainforest Action Network, Port Arthur Community Action Network, and Rise St. James, among others, the groups urge the Treasury Department to provide direction to financial firms to build out transition plans that phase out fossil fuels and end deforestation. Further, the letter requests that Treasury officials meet with key frontline groups that have signed the letter, and not just with the largest banks

The critical need for Treasury to act is underscored by actions of the Texas attorney general and other Republican attorneys general to target Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup’s involvement in the United Nations’ Net-Zero Banking Alliance. The move is part of a larger push by these states to pressure financial institutions to abandon their climate commitments and otherwise undermine their attention to environmental and social concerns. 

Below are quotes from several of the groups that signed onto the letter: 

“Treasury can play a central role in ensuring US banks have science-based plans in place to transition their businesses to net zero,” said Deanna Noël, climate campaigns director at Public Citizen. “Despite an escalating climate crisis, big banks continue to flout their climate commitments. As Treasury meets with external stakeholders on the net-zero transition, it must meet with impacted communities–not just bank execs making false promises.”

“Frontline/fence line organizations and overburdened communities must be heard and represented in any discussion involving financing industries that are the source of their environmental “in”-justice issues,” says John Beard, founder, president, and executive director of Port Arthur Community Action Network (PACAN). “PACAN supports the actions of the Treasury to engage in constructive dialogue regarding its role in the petrochemical buildout. We do not merely want to be heard, but to have a hand in policy making decisions which will address the harm, injustice and disparity impacts; resolution, restoration begins with inclusion. ‘Nothing about Us, without Us.’”

“While big banks are making the big bucks financing fossil fuels, our communities in Cancer Alley are suffering financially in a big way from climate change,” says Sharon Lavigne, founder of Rise St. James. “The US Treasury Department has taken no public action to stop big bank financing of emissions. It’s an injustice we’re going to fight.  

“As COP27 approaches, financial institutions continue to torch our planet and devastate communities all around the world by pouring billions of dollars into fossil fuels and deforestation, leaving those least responsible for the crisis to pick up the bill. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach to rein in Wall Street’s destructive and dangerous behavior,” says Akiksha Chatterji, lead campaigner at Positive Money US. “The Treasury must make clear that it expects financial institutions to immediately stop funding oil and gas expansion, and start supporting clean energy and green jobs instead. Treasury must also meaningfully engage with the communities and groups most impacted by the climate crisis and the predatory actions of big finance, and reflect their concerns in policy decisions.”

Read the full letter here.