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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dreams of European Investment Bank Quitting Coal Go Up in Smoke - For Now

Climate activists take responsibility for fake press release, bizarre award ceremony

Yes Lab, Brussels, March 1, 2013  -- The European Investment Bank (EIB) president Werner Hoyer was forced to say this morning, during the EIB's annual press conference, that an announcement that the bank would give up lending to coal was "pure nonsense." And this, despite the fact that Hoyer repeatedly referred to the EIB as a frontrunner in the fight against climate change.
The contradictory statements from the EIB came as a result of a sophisticated activist campaign that culminated in a curious confrontation inside the European Council building this morning.
The ruse began yesterday afternoon, when a fake press release announced that the EIB was divesting from coal. Several news outlets picked it up as real, including Bloomberg, who quickly discovered their error, pulled the report, and posted a retraction.
The EIB posted a denial on their website and threatened legal action, but that did not stop the activists, who continued to hound them at their exclusive annual press conference this morning.
After Hoyer presented the activities of the EIB during 2012, including the bank's efforts on climate change, he was approached by a self-identified "citizen of Europe," who offered him an elegant flower vase shaped like a smokestack. [video]
"I am very pleased to present this award to the European Investment Bank," said the citizen, "to honor your commitment to divest from Coal, and finally commit to real action on climate change."
Despite hesitating for a second whether to get the "European citizen" kicked out, the EIB decided he posed no real threat and allowed him to continue staying in the room, while keeping the award on the stage for some time.
Upon receiving the award, a confounded Hoyer said that "we have always been grateful for the ingenuity of our journalist partners" and quickly moved on to the next issue on the press conference agenda.
Yet the climate issue and energy lending by the EIB stayed on the media's mind, and numerous questions addressed in the Q&A section of the press conference pressed the EIB to explain more about the bank's efforts against climate change. Representatives of the bank mostly pointed to the upcoming review of the bank's energy policy (due in June); the EIB made it clear it was not ready to announce dropping coal from the bank's lending at the moment, and made it clear that gas will continue to be a central segment of EIB lending in the future.
The "citizen of Europe" was really a representative of Counter Balance, a coalition of NGOs across Europe that monitor the EIB. The action was developed with the help of the Yes Lab.
"We wanted to show to the bank how European citizens expect the EIB to behave," said Berber Verpoest of Counter Balance.
The EIB is the house bank of the EU, mandated to further EU objectives including Europe's 2050 Energy Roadmap which calls for an 80-95% emissions reduction over the next four decades in Europe. The EIB's website claims the bank is "among the largest providers of finance for climate action in pursuit of the EU's goal of low-carbon and climate resilient growth." What is not mentioned, however, are the massive loans to coal-fired power plants and other dirty energy initiatives that the EIB has provided also over the last years.
"The presentation of this award and the hoax press release from yesterday were meant to emphasise the deep contradiction at the heart of the EIB," explains Berber Verpoest from Counter Balance. "On the one hand, this is the bank of the EU with the goal to fight climate change; on the other hand, the EIB has been lending billions to coal, gas and other fossil fuels and until last year its dirty energy loans were equal to its support for clean energy. So with the hoax we wanted to make clear what we expect the future energy policy to look like."
The European Investment Bank is this year reviewing its energy lending policy, a revision which only happens once every 5-6 years. Considering that climate science makes it clear we cannot invest any more in fossil fuel infrastructure after 2017 if we want to contain global warming within 2 degrees Celsius, the current policy revision is the only chance this bank has to set its lending in line with the climate imperative.
"The EIB has been working hard over the past years to clean up its lending," says Xavier Sol from Counter Balance. "We commend them for those efforts and we hope that they take this hoax for what it really is: not so much an attempt to make fun, but an alarm bell that time is running out and subsidies for fossil fuels must be ended today if we want to avoid catastrophe."

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