Several big European financial institutions — BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse and ING — have committed to halting the financing of the trade of oil from the Amazon region of Ecuador.
The three banks that have recently indicated such a policy change — in emails sent to environmental groups Amazon Watch and Stand.earth — are collectively responsible for $5.5bn in Ecuadorian Amazon oil financing since 2009.
The decisions come several months after a critical report published last August by those two groups exposed how a handful of banks in Europe have provided $10bn in financing for over 155 million barrels of oil exported from South America to the United States.
In total, that fuel has produced an estimated 66 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the annual emissions from 17 coal-fired power plants. More than 40 percent of that oil has gone to refineries in the US state of California.
While the banks are expected to release binding details over the coming months, BNP Paribas has already publicised its new commitment to not finance “the seaborne exports of oil from the [coastal] Esmeraldas region in Ecuador”.
Claire Schiff, a spokesperson for the Paris-based bank, told Al Jazeera that the company is continuously improving guidelines for “investment activities in sectors that present ESG [environmental, social and governance] risks”.
As one of the Earth’s most biodiverse ecosystems, the Amazon Sacred Headwaters is home to 500,000 Indigenous people. Their health and livelihoods are threatened by deforestation and the expansion of industrial drilling in their territories around Yasuni National Park and elsewhere.
In a press release issued on Monday, Amazon Watch billed the corporate moves as the “first time global commercial banks have adopted policies that exclude finance for extractive activities in the Amazon rainforest”.
‘An important step’
A report from Amazon Watch last March detailed how five large banks and asset managers underwrote $6bn in equity investments for Amazon oil extraction projects.
Oakland, California-based Amazon Watch, a non-profit focused on protecting the environment and Indigenous communities, has said that banks can do much better at fulfilling sustainability pledges. They cite how Amazon oil extraction contributes to climate change and adversely impacts the health of local groups — including the toxic effects of a November 27 oil spill in the Shiripuno River where the Waorani people live.
“Over the last decade, BNP, ING and Credit Suisse have provided over 50 percent of financing for the Amazon oil trade, a key piece of the Amazon oil supply chain,” said Moira Birss, climate and finance director for Amazon Watch. “And thus, their commitments to end financing for this trade represent an important step toward forest protection and respect for Indigenous rights in the Amazon.”
“However, these new commitments do not extend to other parts of the Amazon oil supply…
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