New York State Comptroller to vote for climate resolutions at top US banks’ shareholder meetings

Tuesday April 12, 2022

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli of the $279 billion pension fund declares banks must stop fueling the climate crisis

NEW YORK -- In advance of the annual shareholder meetings for major US banks, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has filed an exempt solicitation with the Securities and Exchange Commission, indicating the $279 billion NYS Common Retirement Fund will vote in favor of climate related resolutions at the six largest US banks, including those ending financing for fossil fuel expansion. More than a dozen climate-related resolutions have been filed at major US and Canadian banks. The resolutions at the top US banks call for them to adopt policies by year-end to ensure that the firm’s lending and underwriting do not contribute to new fossil fuel development, consistent with achieving the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario. The SEC filing is also a signal for other pension funds and institutional investors that hold shares in the banks to vote in favor of these resolutions. 

The 2022 Banking on Climate Chaos report revealed that the top 60 banks have pumped more than $4.6 trillion into fossil fuel companies since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted in 2016. Despite net zero pledges made by many banks last year, 2021 proved to be a year of climate hypocrisy with coal, oil and gas financing topping $742 billion from the world’s 60 largest banks. All six major US banks have made “net zero by 2050” commitments and joined the Net Zero Banking Alliance, but continue to be some of the world’s largest funders of fossil fuel expansion. Pension funds are major institutional shareholders of banks and can have considerable influence over their business practices. A recent analysis from Stand.earth revealed just 14 U.S. public pensions have over $60 billion invested in the top fossil fuel financing banks. 

The shareholder resolutions call on major banks to align their financing policies with their own commitments to net zero and a 1.5C-aligned scenario, as articulated by the IEA, the IPCC, the UN and a growing consensus of the world’s leading scientists and energy experts. The IEA has concluded that in its net zero pathway, there is no new fossil fuel supply needed after 2021. New York State’s filing outlines the rationale for voting in favor of resolutions at Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. 

Resolutions have also been filed at Canadian banks. Last week, RBC abruptly canceled their in-person portion of their AGM. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the RBC-funded Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline were set to speak at the AGM. They asked questions virtually and then held a march and rally which garnered wide media coverage. Climate related votes received a range of support from 8-20%. Upcoming AGMs including Bank of Montreal on Wednesday April 13, and TD on Thursday, April 14. 

QUOTE SHEET

“This is big leadership by New York State – as all eyes are on these critical climate votes. Big banks are worsening climate change with continued financing of fossil fuel companies,” said Richard Brooks, Climate Finance Director with Stand.earth. “To reduce pollution and protect communities, we must cut off the flow of money to the biggest emitters on the planet, especially those actively increasing fossil fuel production.”

“Despite commitments to address their climate problems and achieve net zero emissions, none of the big banks have taken adequate steps to match their words with action. The resolutions filed with the banks would, for the first time, push them to take real steps to make their commitments a reality and align their practices with a climate-safe future," said Adele Shraiman, campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Fossil-Free Finance campaign. "We applaud Comptroller DiNapoli for his support of these critical resolutions, and we urge other major institutional investors to follow suit."

“These banks have pledged to change their lending practices to achieve net zero emissions, but so far not a single one has taken significant concrete steps to turn that pledge into reality. The shareholder resolutions would at last force the banks to make their actions match their words,” said Dorian Fulvio, member of 350NYC Steering Committee. “It is no small matter that the resolutions forcing them to do what they say come from their own shareholders, and that these measures are being championed by a leader like Comptroller DiNapoli who is widely respected for his fiscal prudence.  We hope that his actions will be a guide for all shareholders, and a wakeup call to the executives of these banks and all other institutional lenders.  We want to thank the Comptroller for his continuing bold leadership.”  

“Banks have a unique opportunity and responsibility to fund the kinds of projects that move humanity forward. By choosing to invest in destructive fossil fuels, these banks are knowingly choosing to invest in human suffering rather than human progress. This must stop, and these climate resolutions, if passed, will pressure them to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk,” said Barbara Pal, Divest NJ / 350NJ-Rockland. “Thank you, Comptroller DiNapoli for your continued leadership in the climate finance space and we hope that other institutional investors will follow your lead, especially the New Jersey State Pension Fund.”

“We applaud Controller DiNapoli for fulfilling his fiduciary duties by encouraging banks to stop fossil fuel expansion. Just as Wall Street banks recklessly gambled our economy away in the Great Recession, they are gambling our economy, climate, and future away by expanding fossil fuel finance and the carbon bubble. These resolutions make clear that we will not go down with them,” said Jackie Fielder, Stop The Money Pipeline Coalition.

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