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  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

  • Credit: © Greenpeace Africa / Mujahid Safodien

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New research shows no end to coal financing in sight

Today, Urgewald, Reclaim Finance, and 25 other NGO partners are publishing research on the financiers and investors behind companies on the “Global Coal Exit List” (GCEL). The GCEL Finance Research shows that South African banks and investors continue to finance coal despite the climate crisis and danger to people’s health.

According to the research and findings, commercial banks globally channelled over US$1.5 trillion to the global coal industry between January 2019 and November 2021.

The Global Coal Exit List covers 1,032 companies across the world. Their activities range from coal mining, trading and transport to the operation of coal-fired power stations and the manufacturing of equipment for new coal plants. The research also examined institutional investors’ exposure to the coal industry, based on their share and bond holdings as of  November 2021.

 

Top South African lenders to the coal industry 

Between January 2019 and November 2021, 10 African commercial banks provided US$2.807 billion in loans to the coal industry. Five South African banks accounted for 97% of total lending by African banks to companies on the GCEL.

The top five lenders in this ranking are Standard Bank (with a total of US$ 426 million in loans to the coal industry), FirstRand Bank, Nedbank, Absa Group and Investec Group.

 

Top South African underwriters to the coal industry

Between January 2019 and November 2021, these same five South African commercial banks channelled US$661 million to companies on the Global Coal Exit List through underwriting.

Whether banks are supporting the coal industry by providing loans or underwriting services, both actions lead to the same result: millions of dollars continue to be pumped into an industry that must urgently be phased out if we are to avoid global catastrophe.

 

Top South African investors in the coal industry

While banks provide corporate and project finance to the coal industry and underwrite coal companies’ share and bond issuances, the ultimate buyers of these securities are investors.  The report also analysed the role of investors in the coal industry in South Africa.

As of November 2021, the research had identified 103 South African institutional investors with combined holdings of over US$ 9.9 billion in the coal industry with three investors accounting for 67% of this total.

The three largest South African institutional investors in the coal industry are the state owned Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC) and Anglo-South African asset manager NinetyOne, with combined share and bond holdings of US$ 6.6 billion.

Despite the PIC being a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI), it held a total bond and shareholding of US$ 3.6 billion in GCEL companies in November 2021.

The PIC recognises its climate risk in its 2021 integrated annual report, but provides no management or mitigation strategy. In September 2021, the PIC put out an invitation to tender for service providers to assist with formulating a climate change strategy, policies, and action plan. To date, the PIC has made no commitments to exit coal.

“There is a tragic irony in the fact that the PIC’s asset base is built on contributions from ordinary working South Africans. These are many of the people who will bear the brunt of climate impacts, both physical and economic. Failure to decarbonise the economy will result in untold costs arising from both physical damage and an economy based on unsustainable fossil fuel derived energy. And in South Africa, decarbonising first and foremost means ditching coal as quickly as possible,” says Centre for Environmental Rights’ attorney Brandon Abdinor.

The IDC, a South African development finance institution, includes “strengthening the green economy” as one of its seven key focus areas for the 2022 financial year, but has a share and bond holding of US$ 1.5 billion in two GCEL companies, including Australian BHP Group Ltd.

Investment management firm NinetyOne formally pledged its support for the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) in September 2018 and continues to report on its exposure to and management of climate risk using the TCFD framework.  However, NinetyOne has a total investment of US$ 1.5 billion in 28 companies reflected on the GCEL.

Centre for Environmental Rights’ attorney Leanne Govindsamy says that, “The fact that South African development finance institutions and an investor like NinetyOne continues to finance the coal industry and at such a massive scale speaks to the real extent of the problem we are facing, as a country and as a people, one of complete disregard for people and the planet. The real impacts of the coal industry are felt by coal affected communities and many investors seem to accept the externalisation of the negative impacts on air, water and soil – ultimately – on people’s health, because it is not visible to them. The Life After Coal campaign has highlighted time and time again what the true impacts of coal are on affected communities. When will banks and investors pay attention, and will it be too late?”

 

Investments in coal developers 

For years, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United Nations Environment Programme, the UN Secretary General, and even the International Energy Agency have warned that there can be no more investments in new coal plants and new coal mines. Divesting from companies that are still actively developing new coal plants, new coal mines, or other coal infrastructure should therefore be a priority for a responsible bank or investor.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in South Africa: The GCEL Finance Research identified 45 new thermal coal mining projects in South Africa – 41 of these are run by South African companies.

Despite net zero promises and climate ambition statements by financial institutions after COP26, the vast majority of investors are still failing to do the obvious: End their investment in coal assets and adopt coal exit policies that are in line with the 1.5°C target.

“It is scientifically well established that Southern Africa is warming at twice the global average. South Africa is already a water scarce country and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is clear that climate change-induced drought is one of our major risks. We have unprecedented human rights and humanitarian crises in the making,” says Govindsamy.

 

Conclusion

The research shows that a small number of financial institutions play an outsized role in keeping the country’s coal industry afloat. Five South African banks account for 97% of loans to the industry. Three investors account for 67% of institutional investments in coal assets.

These financial institutions have a crucial role to play in the just transition and must be held to account by civil society, financial regulators, customers and activist shareholders.

 

For information on all financial institutions covered by the research as well as a detailed methodology, visit: https://coalexit.org/finance-data

 

For further information, contact:

Alexis Scholtz-Wheeler, +27 (0)82739868, [email protected]   

Ognyan Seizov, Urgewald, +49 (0)30 863 2922 61, [email protected] 

Yann Louvel, Reclaim Finance, +33-688907868, [email protected]