Amid the Deepening Climate Crisis, Banks Invested Staggering $673 Billion in Fossil Fuel Projects in 2022

Interview with April Merleaux, research manager with Rainforest Action Network, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

For the past 14 years, Rainforest Action Network has released an annual report assessing bank investments in fossil fuel projects.  Over the past eight years, the group has collaborated with seven other environmental and climate organizations estimating how much more dirty energy has been funded since the 2015 Paris climate accords, designed to reduce the carbon pollution that’s overheating the planet.

This latest report looks at the world’s 60 largest banks, which have invested a total of $5.5 trillion over the past 7 years. It documents investments by the leading lender, JP Morgan Chase and three other big U.S. banks: CitiBank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. Then it tracks 3,000 fossil fuel companies to understand where the investments have been made.

The report, “Banking on Climate Chaos 2023” was endorsed by 600 organizations in 75 countries, making it the benchmark for data and action on this critical issue. One salient fact is that global investments in dirty energy projects dropped 16 percent from 2021 to 2022, but that still amounted to a staggering $673 billion. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with April Merleaux, research manager with Rainforest Action Network, and lead author of this year’s report, who interprets what this latest data could mean.

APRIL MERLEAUX: You know, I think it’s going to take us a little while to understand what’s going on with these finance numbers. The way I’ve been looking at it is that financing for fossil fuels dropped in 2020 because 2020 was a topsy turvy year. There was kind of a big rebound in 2021 to make up for lost time in 2020. And then what we see now I think is a sort of leveling out.

I think this is a dip in fossil fuel financing rather than the beginning of a long-term downward trend and there are a couple of reasons I think that’s the case. One has to do just with the state of the energy markets last year. So, fossil fuel companies made $4 trillion worth of profits. Coming out of the Russian invasion of Ukraine really threw energy markets into disarray and drove prices really high, which really negatively impacted people, especially people in the global South – poor people, working people trying to get access to energy. But those profits flowed into the pockets of fossil fuel companies and their shareholders. And that, I think, changed the calculations of fossil fuel companies in terms of what they were doing to seek capital, their decision about entering capital markets.

So, for example, we’ve got a couple of really big oil companies, like Exxon Mobil, that typically have borrowed billions of dollars every year since 2016, actually just sat out the market and borrowed zero last year. So I think that accounts for part of it. Fossil fuel companies were flush with cash and didn’t need to borrow.

Ironically, I think that could set them up to do a lot more borrowing and particularly because we see signs that they are expanding. When they are flush with cash, they don’t seem like they’re plowing that money into decarbonizing or to shifting away from fossil fuels, but actually doubling down on fossil fuels.

The other piece that I would say besides fossil fuel profits that’s driving that shift in lending is the dynamics within the oil and gas industry in terms of their cycles of investment and decision-making and exploration. And so we actually anticipate that 2024 is going to be a really significant year for new investments in fossil fuels and that’s based on an analysis of data from the fossil fuel industry themselves, so really looking at significant new projects coming on line in 2023 and 2024. So my suspicion is that the financing is going to mirror that. We’re going to see an increase in that.

And then generally, markets were just a little bit unusual last year. The bond markets didn’t act like they normally do when interest rates rise; so all in all, we see it as profits and geopolitical conditions rather than bank policies. If banks had made really strong climate commitments and were actually decreasing their fossil fuel financing, I would actually expect to see an even bigger drop and I’d expect to see a bigger drop across the board across a range of different banks, and that’s not what we’re seeing. We’re not seeing a drops in financing that could be explained by bank policies, because banks just don’t have rigorous enough policies to exclude financing for even companies that are expanding fossil fuels.

MELINDA TUHUS: April Merleaux, I know they made a ton of money last year, but $4 trillion, really?

APRIL MERLEAUX: So, these are news reports. They’re not data I’ve collected myself, but I have multiple citations of $4 trillion in profits across the fossil fuel industry. Occidental Petroleum Company is one I like to point out, that typically has borrowed $11 billion a year, borrowed nothing last year, and had a 721 percent increase in profits between 2021 and 2022.

And look, these are companies that know that they’re facing a long-term decline. They know that the product they’re selling is burning the planet up; they’ve known it for a long time, and it looks to me like they’re squeezing profits out of it while they can. They’re seizing this moment – this conflict moment – squeezing some profits out of it before the inevitable happens. And there’s not really any good reason that banks should be supporting companies doing that.

I think it just reveals the extent to which fossil fuels don’t provide energy security. That this is a real opportunity and leaders in Ukraine, for example, are calling for a transition to renewables. This is a real opportunity for a people-centered energy transition to one that doesn’t center fossil fuel companies.

MELINDA TUHUS: How do groups fighting different fossil fuel projects use these annual reports?

APRIL MERLEAUX: We’ve seen a really significant increase in interest from folks campaigning around the financial decisions that banks and other financial institutions are making with our money, right? And I think we see an increase in activism around pensions,for example, so there’s the Vanguard SOS campaign.

And we trust our banks to take care of our money, to evaluate risks into the future and climate change is the risk of the century, right? It’s the risk of the next couple centuries, and banks really have a lot more work to do taking account of that risk and not contributing more to it.

For more information on the Rainforest Action Network, visit

Read the Rainforest Action Network report “Banking on Climate Chaos 2023” at or download the report.



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