LONDON (Reuters) - Standard Chartered (STAN.L) defended its environmental credentials after renewed criticism from climate campaigners for its funding of fossil fuel companies as the bank held its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.
Chairman Jose Vinals delivered his message to investors via a video posted on the bank’s website because the coronavirus lockdown restrictions in Britain means that shareholder gatherings are not allowed.
The Spanish economist, who has served as chairman of the bank since December 2016, said StanChart had “long recognised” the threat of climate change and would continue to “respond robustly”, pointing to goals to help clients transition to having less than 10% of revenues derived from coal by 2030.
He reiterated the bank’s targets to become net carbon zero in its own operations by the same year, and said it had an opportunity to play a leading role in delivery of the United Nations Sustainable Development goals, “pushing capital from where it is now to where it is most needed.”
The pledges came a day after German environmental pressure group Urgewald renewed its calls on the bank to cease all financial services to companies expanding their fossil fuel activities.
“Divesting from all coal miners, utilities and service providers must be finalised by 2030. This is not about formalities, it is about killing an industry that is killing us,” Katrin Ganswindt, Energy & Finance Campaigner at Urgewald said in a statement.
Urgewald said with $8.5 billion invested in coal plant developers, mainly in India, Indonesia and the Philippines, the Asia-focused bank has provided the most financing for coal expansion of all UK banks since the Paris Agreement.
Vinals told shareholders the bank’s board had “acted decisively” to cut executive pension perks after a sizeable investor rebellion last year.
The bank has drawn criticism in the past few years after paying rewards and salaries out of kilter with shareholder returns and outsized pensions compared to the rest of its workforce.
StanChart reduced Chief Executive Bill Winters and Chief Financial Officer Andy Halford’s pension allowances by half to 10% of total salary from the start of this year.
The lender defines total salary as base salary plus a pay allowance paid in shares, meaning the pension contribution as a proportion of base pay dropped from 40% to 20%.
Last month, Winters and Halford said they would also take salary cuts and waive their cash bonuses for the year due to the coronavirus crisis. Winters also donated 825,000 pounds to the bank’s COVID-19 Assistance Fund, Reuters reported.
Vinals also said the bank was well placed to benefit from a late 2020 economic rally, despite the “extraordinary” impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy.
All of the board’s resolutions passed in proxy voting, with the remuneration report securing 97% support of votes cast, up from 89% the previous year.
Reporting by Sinead Cruise and Iain Withers, editing by Kirstin Ridley and Jane Merriman