BPI challenged to raise clean energy, climate ambitions as bank takes first step away from coal

Green energy group Withdraw from Coal (WFC) on Thursday said the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) is now beginning to take responsibility for the billions of financial support it provided the coal industry through a public pronouncement on its coal phase-out roadmap, and asked other banks still funding coal to follow suit.

Answering a question on the bank’s sustainability efforts during its Annual Stockholders Meeting (ASM), BPI President Cezar Consing stated that the bank intends to achieve a zero-coal loan portfolio by 2037, and expects to be able to halve its outstanding coal loans by the end of 2026.

“With this pronouncement, BPI is finally starting to succumb to growing pressure from its stakeholders – from depositors and investors to communities affected by the coal projects it helped build – on the urgency of stopping financing for coal. We consider this a victory and a manifestation of the dent that a strong civic movement, backed by moral leadership of the Church, can make in moving our banks away from this dirty energy source. BPI, however, can do much more to actually align to the 1.5 degree C Paris goal as it says it intends to do,” said Gerry Arances, Convenor of WFC.

Days ahead of the ASM, WFC released its April 2021 Coal Divestment Scorecard, an initiative which seeks to assist banks in assessing their coal involvement. BPI recorded the highest coal exposure among all cosmetic banks financing coal.

“Reducing its coal loans by half in the next five years is a good start, but that goal is still underwhelming given that BPI is responsible for 27% of all coal lending across 15 local banks. We’d also like to remind BPI that it has to rectify its being the coal industry’s top underwriter. With its coal bonds, BPI is allowing itself to profit off coal without adding to their outstanding loans. Our future is looking catastrophic amid this worsening climate crisis, and so there simply is no excuse to tolerate any form of financial support to coal,” said Arances.

According to WFC’s latest Scorecard report, BPI even engaged in a new coal financing activity just this year by serving as Joint Issue Manager, Joint Lead Underwriter, and Joint Bookrunner for a corporate bond of AboitizPower, the country’s second largest coal developer, which will redeem 2014 coal bonds that financed coal power plants in Pagbilao, Cebu, and Davao.

“We hope the statement President Consing made today is a direction that the bank intends to continue working for and improving in, even as its leadership changes to incoming president Limcaoco. We are ready to support and applaud the bank in its move away from coal,” said Bishop Gerry Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos, convenor of WFC.

The ASM of BPI occurs on the same day as Earth Day, and right before the respective stockholders’ meetings of the two other top financiers of coal according to WFC research: BDO Unibank and the Philippine National Bank (PNB).

“Regardless of the questions still lingering on BPI’s new coal commitment, it is a welcome development that should definitely be mirrored by BDO and PNB as they report to their respective stakeholders. We are glad that BPI decided to make a contribution towards Restoring the Earth today, and we hope our other banks would also make the responsible decision to care for our environment and people by withdrawing from coal,” said Alminaza.