Five of the World's Largest Banks Are Pouring Billions Into the Amazon's Destruction

Indigenous women from the Amazon protest environmental policies in Quito, Ecuador in March 2018
Indigenous women from the Amazon protest environmental policies in Quito, Ecuador in March 2018
Photo: AP

These days, investment in planetary destruction is gauche. In recent months, major companies from Amazon to Microsoft have pledged to prioritize sustainability (though their plans to do so have been problematic at best). As environmental activists have targeted financial institutions for their investment in climate-warming activities, those firms have also made commitments to clean up their act. But new research shows they’re doing a pretty shitty job at it.


A new report from environmental and indigenous rights group Amazon Watch reveals that five of the world’s biggest banks are funding crude oil extraction in the western Amazon. The five financial institutions highlighted—Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, and BlackRock—have provided tens of billions of dollars to oil companies to operate in Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.

Oil and gas sites already spread over two thirds of the rainforest in Ecuador and Peru. Extracting fossil fuels isn’t just a major direct contributor to the climate crisis. It also results in deforestation, thereby destroying an essential carbon sink and ancestral territories on which indigenous people and tens of thousands of species depend. The report notes that since many oil and gas exploration sites are in remote areas, drilling requires constructing new roads deep in the rainforest, which “paves the way for further rainforest destruction from illegal logging, illegal mining, new settlements, and pipeline spillage.”

The sick irony is that in some cases, these investments contradict the sustainability pledges which some of the firms have volunteered in recent months. In January, BlackRock, for instance, promised to “fundamentally reshape finance to deal with climate change.” Shortly after BlackRock’s announcement, JPMorgan Chase announced new restrictions on financing coal and Arctic oil and gas, environmental commitments from its asset management arm, and a plan to finance more clean energy. But the report states that as of 2019’s fourth financial quarter, BlackRock holds $2.5 billion of stocks and bonds in oil companies extracting crude oil in the Amazon, and JPMorgan Chase holds has contributed over $890 million to Amazon crude oil extraction.

These investments come despite “explicit opposition from indigenous groups on the ground and the worsening of the climate crisis that such activity promotes,” Amazon Watch said in a statement.

As the climate crisis becomes even worse, we need to rapidly phase out of oil and gas drilling and protect and expand the planet’s natural carbon sinks. And while some banks are talking a good game, their money is walking in the opposite direction.


Earther staff writer. Blogs about energy, animals, why we shouldn't trust the private sector to solve the climate crisis, etc. Has an essay in the 2021 book The World We Need.


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Oil and gas reserves for subject countries + Brazil compared to Venezuela:

Crude Oil (billion barrels of oil in reserves as of 2017 least to most) and natural gas (trillion cubic feet):

Peru: crude oil, 0.5 billion barrels & gas, 14 trillion cubic feet

Colombia: 2.0 & 4.4

Ecuador: 8.3 & 0.4

Brazil: 13 & 15

Venezuela: 301 & 201

The point being is we don’t hear a lot about Venezuela from a concerned perspective - yet it has the world’s most oil in reserve. Almost twice as much as the tar sands of Alberta Canada and even more than Saudi Arabia.

The big new South American play right now is offshore in the Guyana-Suriname Basin, which is just outside and northeast of the Amazon rainforest.