Oct 7, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Unpacking JPMorgan's new climate plan

An illustration of a man with a briefcase
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

JPMorgan Chase said late Tuesday that it will "align its financing activities" with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Why it matters: JPMorgan is the country's largest bank and, as the Wall Street Journal notes, holds "considerable sway in boardrooms around the globe." It's also the banking sector's largest financier of fossil fuels, per an analysis from several environmental groups of lending and underwriting.

How it works: They're looking to support companies cutting emissions and expanding investment in clean sources and tech. Their plan includes...

  • Creating a 2030 "emissions target" for their financing portfolio, and setting sector-specific targets for oil-and-gas, power and auto portfolios.
  • Launching a "Center for Carbon Transition" to help provide clients with "sustainability-focused" financing and advisory services.

My thought bubble: The plan also says plenty about the political and corporate landscape for climate change, banking in particular, a sector under sustained and increasing activist pressure.

  • It's a sign of how some stretches of Wall Street and K Street have parted ways with President Trump, who opposes Paris and rejects consensus climate science.
  • Like many other big corporate pledges, it's pretty vague. They intend to "begin communicating" about those sector-specific emissions plans next year.
  • On that point, it also doesn't list any new types of investments that will be no-go zones beyond February's announcement that they won't directly finance new Arctic drilling and certain coal projects and companies.
  • The emphasis on the need for net-zero emissions by 2050 shows how finance-sector initiatives are adding more aggressive pledges and targets, not simply agreeing to steer clear of financing specific high-emissions projects.

What they're saying: I spoke last night to Jason Disterhoft of the Rainforest Action Network, one of the groups that are very active in pressuring banks on climate change. He's not impressed with the plan for a few reasons.

  • “It offers a lot of reassurance to existing clients” including ExxonMobil, he says, noting the lack of "hard restrictions" on the bank's fossil fuel financing.
  • “One of the takeaway messages from this announcement by JPMorgan Chase is how committed they are to their existing roster of clients including, by implication, their high-carbon clients,” he says.
  • He calls it a "promissory note" for 2030 that's lacking in concrete steps. Disterhoft is also troubled by the announcement's discussion of clients' carbon "intensity" (which Generate readers know means emissions per unit of output, not an absolute trajectory).

The big picture: Disterhoft said that despite the new commitments, JPMorgan has not gone as far as several other banking giants — such as Crédit Agricole, Barclays and UniCredit — when it comes to the breadth of its commitments or financing restrictions.

What's next: Green groups, even ones less critical of the plan, say they will be looking for more specifics.

  • "JPMorgan should establish sector specific expectations — including ambitious near term targets that are Paris-aligned — and make access to capital contingent on corporate climate performance," Ben Ratner of the Environmental Defense Fund said in a statement.
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