How a top climate finance campaigner wrangles Europe’s giant banks and companies

Climate Finance

How a top climate finance campaigner wrangles Europe’s giant banks and companies

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Lucie Pinson talks about how to win the big fights.

I’ve been long overdue for a Beers with Blair conversation in the new year. Who better to talk to than the highly energetic, award-winning climate finance campaigner Lucie Pinson, CEO of Reclaim Finance. We spoke remotely, her in Paris, me in Sydney, and the discussion ranged from her work journey to some of her incredible successes over the years in getting banks and companies to move — and move more effectively — on climate change.

Lucie founded France-based Reclaim Finance in 2020, which she has headed up ever since. That same year, she was one of the six winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize — the Nobel Prize, if you will, for environmental activists. Her many successes include leading campaigns that saw 16 French banks end investment in coal and 15 of the world’s biggest insurers and reinsurers stop supporting new coal mines and plants.

I asked Lucie to share the secret for getting results from business sectors not known for moving quickly on anything that doesn’t generate profit. 

“I try to identify the biggest fights where I can have the biggest impact.” Then she focuses on four priorities:

“Being strategic, using each campaign to become stronger and ensuring your work helps the broader movement … And being very well connected.” 

“I try to identify the biggest fights where I can have the biggest impact.”

So is it hard to be taken seriously by the banking and insurance sectors and what motivates them to take action?

“Just a few years ago it was hard,” she said. “Most had the idea that to work in finance, you needed to be a man and wear a suit and to talk only about economics and finance,” she said. “That started to change about a year ago. We’ve seen people everywhere become quite scared of the gravity of the climate crisis.”

OK, but has that translated into more action? Is it real or just business as usual?

“Most companies are doing what they need to do to protect themselves,” she said. “But we are still looking for big examples of companies and banks taking real action.” 

AXA IM, which manages more than €869 billion ($994 billion) in assets, she said, recently announced new climate commitments, including moving “toward” divesting from high impact companies and bolstering investment in climate solutions. 

Sounds like progress, but it’s easier said than done. 

We had hopes that AXA was going to be a real leader last year. Before COP26 they were well-positioned to do it,” she said. “They were one of the first to announce plans to move out of coal in 2015, but they lost their ambition.” 

Rather than announce solid initiatives, the company continued to commit only to stop the financing of fossil fuels “at some point.” 

Not exactly the kind of leadership one expects from the leader of the Net Zero Asset Owners Alliance

So are efforts like the Net Zero Asset Owners Alliance and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) coming out of COP26 helpful or not?  

“These things have no enforcement mechanism, no way to kick out those that are greenwashing,” she said.  

I can’t resist asking Lucie what she thought of the recent BlackRock letter by CEO Larry Fink that focused on stakeholder capitalism and climate change.

“BlackRock … it’s a joke. The company has done nothing real in the last two years,” she said. “They made a 2020 commitment that we thought might be the beginning of something. Nothing happened. Their voting record is full of holes. They continue to advocate for gas, ignoring the IEA mandate. They continue to support hundreds of new gas plants locking in decades of fossil fuels. Vanguard and State Street are the same.” 

Any good companies?

“Unfortunately at the moment, it’s a short list,” she said. “Allianz has been a driver of climate change action. When Oliver Bäte became CEO three years ago, he said we must lead the charge against climate change but the company hasn’t cleaned up its investments. BNP Paribas had a great position in 2017 on oil and gas but has now tripled down on its financing of oil and gas.”

“The impossible became possible.”

Given how slowly corporate climate action is moving, I ask Lucie how she and her team keep the pressure on and how they keep the dialogue going.

“We let financial institutions know if we are going to target them, let them see our reports before we release them so that they can fact check them and respond, make sure there are no mistakes. We want to make sure the debate is about the right issues, the big issues.”

Photo: Friends of the Earth International

Written by

Blair Palese

Blair Palese is co-founder and managing editor at Climate & Capital Media. She is also director of philanthropy at Australia's oldest ethical financial adviser. Previously she co-founded Australia and was CEO for ten years. She was head of PR for The Body Shop and communications director at Greenpeace internationally and in the US. Blair has worked for media outlets including Greenpages Magazine, the Washington Monthly and ABC in the U.S.