REPORT: BlackRock’s Holdings in Tar Sands Bring Wider Climate Failings to Center Stage

Thursday March 18, 2021

Data from Reclaim Finance shows asset manager holds nearly $79 billion in dirtiest form of oil, including large investments in controversial pipeline companies

LONDON, UK — A new report from Reclaim Finance shows that BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, holds over $75 billion in thirty major tar sands production companies, all of which plan to develop new reserves of the world’s dirtiest form of oil. BlackRock also holds $3.7 billion in three pipeline companies engaged in the construction of controversial pipelines transporting tar sands oil from Alberta Canada, including Line 3,  which is the cause of escalating conflict in the U.S. and Canada for its threats to the environment and violations of Indigenous sovereignty

The report comes on the heels of new revelations from the Global Coal Exit List that BlackRock’s holdings make it the second largest investor in coal, with $85 billion invested in the sector. Taken with BlackRock's continued investment in companies engaged in forest destruction and violations of Indigenous rights, the new report highlights the gap between BlackRock's net-zero commitments and its own practices, and it raises questions about how BlackRock plans to take concrete action when it comes to the most dangerous industries it helps to enable.

The news comes amidst a swell of climate-related announcements from BlackRock and its CEO, Larry Fink, including a pledge to go net zero across its entire portfolio by 2050, to use its shareholder voting power more rigorously on climate proposals and board votes, and to require transparency from companies and to be more transparent itself about carbon emissions. These announcements continue to be criticized for their lack of specificity, including on timelines and concrete standards for exclusion or voting. Campaigners also argue that BlackRock’s current engagement strategy risks giving cover for companies that have no viable pathway to transition, such as companies launching new oil and gas projects.

Lara Cuvelier, Sustainable Investments Campaigner at Reclaim Finance, said:

 “Tar sand investments are a ticking time bomb for the climate which BlackRock must urgently defuse. In recent months, BlackRock has won plaudits for backing a net-zero 2050 target. But the asset management giant is still funnelling a shameful $75bn into top tar sands polluters, all of which are planning on developing new reserves. By supporting their exploitation, BlackRock isn’t just helping to put the planet at risk, but risks being complicit in Indigenous land rights violations too. If it wants to hold onto its green reputation, BlackRock should quickly get its own house in order, and lay out a policy to quit tar sands, across both active and passive portfolios.”

Sven Biggs, Canadian Oil and Gas Program Director at Stand.earth, said:

 “Canada is failing on climate change and the tar sands are the biggest single reason why. Our emissions have continued to rise, and as a result we are falling further and further behind other industrialized countries. The oil and gas sector, which is now both the fastest growing and largest single source of our emissions, is the core of the problem. Which is why BlackRock’s investments in the tar sands are not just out of line with their commitments on climate, they are out of line with a climate safe world. The tar sands are so toxic that even Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Statoil have quit them – BlackRock must now do the same.”

The report points to the carbon intensity of tar sands oil--extracting and refining it makes it 3.2-4.5 times more polluting than conventional oil pulled from North America. A recent report in Nature confirmed that extracting all tar sands oil would use up almost one-third of the planet’s remaining carbon budget to keep the world below 2°C. The report also points to the many other risks and harms of tar sands oil, including the land, air, and water pollution inherent to extraction, refining, and overland transport of tar sands oil and violations of Indigenous rights and sovereignty. 

The report presents numerous demands for BlackRock to achieve consistency between its net zero pledges and its holdings in major fossil fuel developers, especially those involved in unconventional oil and gas development. That includes the quick adoption of a tar sands exclusion policy for its active portfolio, ceasing investments in companies involved in tar sands, and a set of standards for how BlackRock should deal with tar sands companies in its passive portfolio.

Report authors and representatives of Reclaim Finance are available for further comment.

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Media contacts: 

Angus Satow, angus@reclaimfinance.org, +447847754046 (Europe)

Jason Schwartz, jasondanielschwartz@gmail.com, +1-347-452-3752 (N. America)

Sven Biggs sven@stand.earth +1-778-882-8354 (Canada)