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Investors turn against fossil fuels at Paris climate summit

[PARIS] Major banks and companies vowed on Tuesday to move away from Earth-warming fossil fuels as world leaders met in Paris seeking to unlock new cash to save humanity from climate "doom".

Two years to the day since 195 nations sealed the Paris Agreement to avert worst-case-scenario climate change, investors announced billions of dollars of intended divestment from coal, oil, and gas at a finance-themed climate summit.

But conference host France, as well as the UN and the World Bank, warned that efforts to shift the global economy into a green energy future were too little, too slow.

"We are losing the battle," French President Emmanuel Macron told delegates. "We are not moving fast enough."

For his part, UN chief Antonio Guterres cautioned that many countries continued to subsidise fossil fuels to bring down prices for consumers, which he likened to humanity "investing in its own doom".

"We are in a war for the very existence of life on our planet as we know it," he told more than 50 heads of state including Mexico's Enrique Pena Nieto, Britain's Theresa May and Spain's Mariano Rajoy, at the summit called by Mr Macron in response to US President Donald Trump's rejection of the 2015 Paris Agreement.


The pact, which took more than two decades to negotiate, seeks to limit average global warming to under two degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

Under it, countries have pledged non-binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of oil, coal, and natural gas blamed for global warming.

America, a champion of the pact under Mr Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, is the only country to reject it.

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim announced to loud applause Tuesday that the lender would "no longer finance upstream oil and gas after 2019".

"We're determined to work with all of you to put the right policies in place, get market forces moving in the right direction, put the money on the table, and accelerate action," he said.

Greenpeace hailed the move. "The World Bank - as one of the world's most powerful financial institutions - has sent a damning vote of no confidence to the future of the fossil fuel industry," said campaigner Gyorgy Dallos.

French insurer Axa said it would speed up carbon sector divestment, pulling 2.5 billion euros (S$4 billion) from companies which derive more than 30 percent of their revenues from coal.


Dutch bank ING said it would have "close to zero exposure" to coal power generation by 2025, and a group of more than 200 global investors, including banking giant HSBC, launched a campaign to pressure the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters - including BP, Airbus, Volkswagen and Glencore - to go greener.

According to the International Energy Agency, green energy investments of about US$3.5 trillion per year will be needed for the world to stay under the 2 C limit - double current spending.

"While the challenge is great, we must do everything in our power to meet it. We know it is the difference between life and death for millions of vulnerable people around the world," said Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister of Fiji who presided over UN climate talks in Bonn last month.

On current emissions trends, the world is on course for warming of 3 C, experts warn, with life- and asset-threatening superstorms, sea-level rise, floods and droughts the result.

Mr Trump, who has described climate change as a "hoax", came under fire from all quarters on Tuesday.

His rejection of the Paris pact was "politically short-sighted and misguided, economically irresponsible, and scientifically wrong," said former UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon.

But in the absence of a senior administration official, American businesses, regions and local government leaders have taken up the cudgels, represented in Paris by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, ex-governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.


"It doesn't matter that Donald Trump backed out of the Paris Agreement," said Schwarzenegger, now the face of the R20 network regional climate actors.

"We at the subnational level, we're going to pick up the slack.

But many remain concerned about climate finance for developing countries, of which the US - the world's biggest historical greenhouse gas polluter - has traditionally been a major contributor.

Mr Trump has vowed to slash climate finance and withhold US$2 billion pledged to the Green Climate Fund.

Developing nations need the money to ease the costly shift away from fossil fuels, and to shore up defences against climate change-induced weather disasters.

Rich nations, who have polluted more for longer, pledged in 2009 to muster US$100 billion per year in climate finance from 2020.

On 2015 trends, total public financing would reach about US$67 billion by that date, according to a report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).