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Published on 14 May 2020

HSBC close loophole in Big Shift campaign victory

Christian Aid campaigner Helen Collinson shares the success of the Big Shift campaign announced at HSBC’s AGM.

 

During these dark times. I’m delighted to share some good news.

I’m reminded yet again, that campaigning success can often come many weeks, months or even years after the act. During lent in 2019 hundreds of people like you, spurred on by a belief in a most just world, visited HSBC branches across the UK and called on them make the Big Shift out of fossil fuels.

A few days after their highly secretive AGM on 24th April 2020, HSBC responded to the many questions they received from shareholders. Buried in this list of responses was a low-key announcement that they had closed a loophole in their coal prohibition policy – a loophole which was the focus of our Big Shift campaign throughout the past few years.

The outrageous loop-hole in HSBC’s coal policy

The loop hole had allowed HSBC to fund new coal power stations in three highly climate-vulnerable countries - Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Vietnam - Despite coal being the most polluting energy source and a major contributor the climate crisis.

We were flabbergasted that a bank that prides itself on its sustainable credentials could even consider financing the expansion of new coal power, let alone in countries where our global neighbours are already facing devastating impacts of the climate crisis.

The air pollution from new coal power plants planned for these countries would also have led to an estimated additional 70,000 premature deaths a year.

Meanwhile, millions of Bangladeshis in remote communities, unconnected to ‘the grid’ would continue to experience the impacts of the climate crisis, but without even benefiting from the energy these new plants could produce – localised, renewable energy solutions would serve Bangladesh’s energy poor far more effectively, and far more sustainably!

As these community’s battle with rising sea levels and recurrent floods linked to the climate crisis, coal power will simply add salt to the wound.

Your actions make a difference

So, over the course of 2018, 30,000 of you emailed the CEO and 7,000 of you sent him postcards, asking him to close this loophole. Local churches and Christian Aid groups also visited over 150 local HSBC branches across the UK with personalised letters to the CEO.

Simultaneously environmental organisations and activists in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia were calling for this loophole to be closed.

At the time, it may have felt like we weren’t making any headway but, as ever, some of our biggest campaign victories happen after we’ve moved on to another campaign. Change in some of the world’s most powerful and entrenched institutions takes time!

HSBC branch visit

Big Shift campaigners visiting an HSBC branch

Work to do

This victory is soured by the fact that HSBC is still a major financier of some of the world’s most polluting coal power companies (the Bank’s policy only covers the prohibition of finance to coal projects¸ not coal companies), so there is much still to do to get HSBC and other banks out of fossil fuels completely and help communities on the frontline of the climate crisis.

But it’s clear that this policy change would not have happened without your actions and that it increases the pressure on the fossil fuel laggards in the private finance sector to stop financing coal projects.

Above all, it shows that however much we feel like David in the face of a hugely powerful and wealthy ‘Goliath’ like HSBC, our campaigning can still make a difference.

 

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