Opinion

Banks must stop financing oil and gas as women face the worst impacts of the climate crisis

This International Women's Day, ActionAid UK calls for banks to stop financing oil and gas to protect women and girls most harshly impacted by the climate crisis

women climate crisis/ banks

Martha is a fisherwoman who is being impacted by oil spills in Nigeria. Image: Nora Awolowo/ActionAid

This year has been packed full of ominous warnings for our planet’s future. From devastating forest fires across Europe to food insecurity in East Africa driven by floods and drought, no corner of the planet has been left untouched by climate catastrophe.

And yet, our high street banks – headquartered right here in the UK – are knowingly profiting from climate disasters whilst global temperatures rise year on year. As bank executives on cosy salaries sit in City boardrooms, the decisions they are making today will continue to have disastrous consequences for millions of people across the world, with women and girls facing the worst impacts.

Since the Paris Agreement, banks including HSBC and Barclays have pumped $3.2tn into fossil fuel businesses and a further $370bn into unsustainable agriculture and farming in many of the countries where ActionAid works, according to our recent research.

Women are facing the most harmful impacts of the climate crisis, ActionAid warns. Image: Nora Awolowo/ActionAid

HSBC investments have gone towards harmful oil projects in Ghana and harmful agricultural practices in Brazil that stand accused of displacing and causing homelessness among Indigenous communities. Our research also found that Barclays is the largest funder of TotalEnergies in the Global South, providing US$2.1 billion since 2016 to prop up fossil fuel supermajors like Shell in countries where ActionAid works.

For more than half a century, Shell – one of Barclays’ and HSBC’s biggest clients – have been devastating communities across the Niger Delta, ruining farmlands, and destroying the complex waterways that sustains lives and incomes. Oil spills and gas flaring – the burning of extracted gas that is not captured and sold – have decimated fish populations, resulting in the loss of countless fishing livelihoods and a sharp rise in hunger among the local population. This is all while in pursuit of profit from fossil fuels which will fuel the climate crisis for years to come.

The Niger Delta region of Nigeria, home to more than 6.5 million people who depend on fishing and farming, one of the country’s main bread baskets, provides all-year-round agricultural production thanks to its lush mangroves and rainforests. It is also a region that has accounted for more than 70% of Nigeria’s foreign revenue since the 1970s. But instead of being a blessing for communities across the Delta, bringing with it wealth and prosperity to the region, Shell’s presence in Nigeria has been a curse.

Before Shell came to the Niger Delta in the 1950s, fisherwomen women like Martha brought home to their families an abundance of fish whenever they cast out their nets. Generations before them relied on the steady income this huge expanse of water brought them – to help put food on the table and to send their children to school. 

Now one of the most polluted places on earth, frequent oil spills and gas flaring have contaminated not only the water and decimated fishing stock – but the also the drinking water of many communities in the Delta. Communities across the Niger Delta have no choice but to drink the water, causing stomach aches and illness and diarrhoea among children.

The sheer level of destruction caused by oil giants in Nigeria is unfathomable. Last year alone, 956 oil spills occurred – an equivalent of more than 2.4 million litres of oil, according to the Nigeria Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency.  Women, too, often have less access to education than men in some parts of the Delta region, meaning that jobs in the formal economy are mostly filled by men. With fewer options to earn an income, women are forced to eke out a living on devastated land.

When viewed as mere numbers – simply another column on a bank’s investment portfolio – all this can seem a little abstract until you hear stories like Martha’s. But if you follow the money trail it’s clear to see that banks are clearly financing climate destruction while also financing localised environmental destruction in places like the Niger Delta.

With the news earlier this month revealing that 2023 was the first time that the world has exceeded 1.5°C of warming over a 12-month period, the time to act has already long passed. As the earth breaches all planetary limits, banks must phase out their funding of fossil fuels and immediately stop funding future expansions.

We call on banks to stop financing the two biggest drivers of the climate crisis – fossil fuels and harmful industrial agriculture.Despite global climate meltdown, banks are continuing to profit off fossil fuel expansion, environmental destruction and human rights violations across the globe.

Together, we can ensure a just, green, feminist and more sustainable future for all. Sign the petition now.

Zahra Hdidou, is senior climate and resilience adviser at ActionAid UK.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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