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Banks funding the Cambo oil field 

The words 'Stop Cambo' have become synonymous with climate action in the UK. From Greenpeace’s actions outside Downing Street to youth activists directly challenging the CEO of Shell at Ted Countdown, this controversial project has shifted from inevitable in the eyes of its shareholders to a widely contested course of action.

But what is the Cambo oil field, and how does it relate to our banking choices?

Update: 3rd December 2021 - Since this article was written, Shell has withdrawn from the Cambo oil field project in a major victory for campaigners.

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Fossil fuel giant Shell, alongside Siccar Point Energy, have applied for a permit to develop the Cambo oilfield in the North Sea, to the west of Shetland. This permit would allow them to produce as many as 170 million barrels of oil between 2025 and 2050, despite the disastrous environmental consequences this would cause.

If given the green light, Cambo would be the emissions equivalent of operating 18 coal-fired power plants.

It would also be one of the first proposals to receive approval since the International Energy Agency declared that there can be no new oil and gas supply projects if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

As we have covered extensively, where we put our money matters. Banks, pension funds and financial services invest the money we hold with them in a variety of ways meaning that, even if we’re committed to sustainable and ethical lifestyles, we could unwittingly be funding these fossil fuel projects, alongside other issues such as deforestation and the arms trade.

Now, new research has shown that our high street banks are directly financing the companies behind Cambo.

Banks are funding the Cambo oil field and climate change

Thirty-four major UK and international banks currently fund Shell and Siccar Point Energy, providing a total of $4.5bn in financial services since the Paris Agreement was signed.

UK high street banks Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC, Standard Chartered and Natwest alone provided financial services totalling $5.93 billion to oil and gas companies operating in the North Sea since 2016. 

Many of these banks are also members of the Net-Zero Banking Alliance or signatories of the Collective Commitment to Climate Action; committing to aligning their portfolios to the goal of net zero by 2050 or sooner. These commitments require them to use credible, science-based decarbonisation scenarios, and to work with clients on their transition.

Supporting Cambo directly contradicts these promises.

Banks involved include:

  • Barclays
  • Lloyds
  • HSBC
  • Natwest
  • Standard Chartered Bank
  • Bank of America
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Morgan Stanley
  • Société Générale 
  • BNP Paribas
  • Citigroup
  • Crédit Agricole
  • Credit Suisse
  • ING Bank
  • Lloyds
  • JP Morgan Chase
  • Santander
  • SpareBank 1 SR Bank
  • Standard Chartered 
  • UBS
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • Bank of America
  • Wells Fargo
  • Groupe BPCE
  • Toronto-Dominion Bank
  • SMBC Group
  • Mizuho Financial
  • Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
  • Bank of China
  • ANZ 
  • Credit Suisse
  • Nedbank
  • DNB
  • ABN AMRO
  • Commonwealth Bank of Australia
  • Pareto
  • NIBC Holding
  • SBERBANK
Oil rigs in the sea Scotland

Lawyers from the non-profit ClientEarth wrote to 17 initial banks found to be funding Shell and Siccar Point Energy, requesting justification for support of the operators of the Cambo oil field in light of climate commitments.

Those 17 were were: Bank of America, Barclays, BNP Paribas, BPCE/Natixis, Citi, Crédit Agricole, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, ING Bank, Lloyds, Morgan Stanley, Banco Santander, Société Générale, SpareBank 1 Markets, Standard Chartered and UBS.

As of publication, none of the banks contacted have publicly committed to divestment or opposed the Cambo oilfield. 

The science is clear, financial institutions can no longer provide financial or advisory services to projects that involve new exploration or development of fossil fuels.

It is hypocritical to support fossil fuel extraction that is inherently incompatible with reaching net zero, suggesting these banks are committed only to public greenwashing rather than credible action.

Supporting Cambo is also a risky choice financially and legally. Fossil fuels are viewed as economically stranded assets, making them an illogical candidate for financial backing. Additionally, in their letters, ClientEarth lawyers highlighted the banks’ legal obligations under international standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, clearly indicating how important it is for money to be moved away from the fossil fuel industry and towards a future focused on climate justice. 

How to make sure you are not funding climate change

In the face of such huge amounts of money and influence we can feel powerless as individuals to change anything, but this isn’t the whole picture. There is power in people coming together in collective action.

On a personal level, changing who you bank with is a direct and easy way to ensure your money doesn’t fund fossil fuel projects. Doing it together, en masse, and vocalising why we are changing, helps remove the social license to operate for the entire industry.

As COP26 comes to an end we must remember that communities have influence too. Cambo doesn’t have to go ahead, and banks don’t have to fund these projects, because we can work to dismantle destructive industries and systems. The world is calling out for climate justice, and we can make sure our money aligns with this call.

To learn more check out Ethical Consumer’s banking guides, and visit Stop Cambo to get involved in the campaign.

What you can do

Individual actions, multiplied together, can have powerful results. Here are some ideas that you can take:

Once you have decided to switch banks, you can use our handy template letter to let your old bank know why you are moving to a more ethical choice.

About the author

This article was written by Francesca Willow; artist, writer and founder of Ethical Unicorn. You can read more about her in our Q&A with her.