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Standard Chartered poaches Google lead to fight greenwash accusations

© Shutterstock / TungCheungStandard Chartered sign and logo.

Standard Chartered says that it has appointed Kerry Constabile to lead its net zero and sustainability strategy teams. She joins the bank after roles at Google and UN Secretary General’s office and may play a major role in addressing accusations that the bank is greenwashing its strategies.

What: Standard Chartered bank hires Kerry Constabile to lead its net zero plans.

Why it matters: This signals a growing recognition of the critical importance of data and high level computing analysis in managing the complexity of ESG and sustainability.

What next: We should expect to see more recruitment from the digital world into high level banking, especially as banks struggle with green finance, transition planning and impact.

Constabile joins from Google, where she led the company’s sustainability strategy and company-wide climate plans including net zero, carbon market and removal strategies and incubated the 24/7 Carbon Free Energy Compact. She also drove the data centre water strategy and was a lead advisor on climate risk products.

Standard Chartered is targeting $300 billion in transition finance

Her appointment follows the 2021 announcement of Standard Chartered’s launch of its Transition Finance Imperative, as part of its drive to become the world’s most sustainable bank. This involved a commitment by Standard Chartered to mobilise $300 billion in green and transition finance by 2030. In fact, she said in a statement, “I’ve always admired Standard Chartered’s leadership in sustainable finance in emerging markets and its commitment to mobilise $300 billion by 2030 for green and transition financing.”

The bank’s position is somewhat challenging however, as it has been credibly accused of continuing to finance fossil fuels and failing to align with the IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 scenario, as that would have required the bank’s policy to rule out oil and gas expansion. The policy allows Standard Chartered to continue financing coal giants like Indonesia’s Adaro Energy, which has no plans to stop extracting coal and plans to continue coal production at current rate until at least 2040. Adaro has 1.1 billion tonnes of coal reserves, which if burned would be equivalent to the annual emissions of India.

Standard Chartered’s own analysis rated Adaro’s business plan as aligning with a catastrophic ‘hothouse Earth’ scenario of 5-6°C of global warming, yet nothing in the updated policy clearly rules out additional funding of Adaro and other miners in the same position. Adam McGibbon, UK Campaign Lead at Market Forces, said when the plan was released: “The bank needs to either write a real climate policy that aligns with the IEA scenario and rules out all fossil fuel expansions worldwide, be they coal, oil or gas, or drop its increasingly flimsy claim to have a net zero by 2050 target.”

The bank is accused of greenwash due to its financing of fossil fuels

In May 2022 its AGM was disrupted by activists claiming that it had provided fossil fuel finance of $6 billion in 2021 alone. In total it was said that the bank had invested $24 billion into coal, oil and gas companies since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.

In fact, the Banking on Climate Chaos 2022 report shows that the bank has provided over $39.5 billion in fossil fuel finance since 2015.  That covers lending as well as the underwriting of debt and equity issues. Standard Chartered may not be one of the top ten shareholders that could influence nearly 50% of fossil fuels, but they have a role to play.

Sustainability and data expertise could help manage compexity

The focus on transition finance is seen by many as an excuse not to focus on green finance. It is true that there are complex issues at play, especially in terms of developing markets, but Standard Chartered has some way to go before it can be seen as anything other than a banking laggard in climate terms. It’s possible that the introduction of deep knowledge in terms of data and analysis will help push the bank in another direction, but this is definitely a question of wait and see.

At Standard Chartered, Constabile will report directly to the Chief Sustainability Officer, Marisa Drew, and will be responsible for driving the emerging market-focused bank’s global sustainability strategy. Her responsibilities will include managing key strategic sustainability initiatives for the Group, overseeing net zero target setting and delivery of the bank’s commitments across scope 1, 2 and 3 and the bank’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting and disclosures.

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