Bank of England ‘failing climate’ with Covid-19 stimulus programme

The Bank of England has been accused of failing to live up to its tough talk on the climate crisis after it revealed it would buy debt from oil companies as part of its coronavirus stimulus programme.

The oil firms BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Total are among the companies whose subsidiaries’ debts are eligible for the Bank’s bond purchases, according to an indicative list published on its website this week.

The bond purchases, which is known as quantitative easing, are being made to stimulate the broader economy during the pandemic lockdown. The monetary policy committee (MPC) at Threadneedle Street hopes that purchases of £200bn in government and corporate bonds from banks will encourage those institutions to lend the proceeds elsewhere in the UK economy, while also holding down borrowing costs for companies.

However, activists said the continued inclusion of some of the biggest polluters in history was incompatible with the government’s aim of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Positive Money, a campaign group, said the purchases of oil company bonds broke the promises of Andrew Bailey, the new Bank of England governor who last month told MPs there was a “very strong argument” for excluding fossil fuel companies from the purchases.

Bailey said looking at the exclusion of fossil fuel companies would be a priority for the Bank, but noted any exclusion would require the consent of the government.

Fran Boait, the executive director of Positive Money, said the Bank must stop buying bonds from fossil fuel companies and consider excluding companies whose business model were not in line with the Paris climate agreement and the government’s 2050 netzero target.

“Corporate QE is another subsidy for multinational companies and is not necessary to save the economy or save lives,” she said. “There is no need for our response to the coronavirus crisis to harm our response to the climate crisis.”

A Bank spokeswoman said: “The MPC’s actions are guided by statutory objectives and a remit set by parliament and the government of the day. These objectives are for the economy as a whole and are not specific to particular sectors. The government’s latest remit letter does not specify a climate objective.”

Boait said the remit of the scheme was set in August 2016, after the Brexit referendum, with “no tilt to or away from specific sectors”.

Of the £10bn corporate bonds the Bank intends to buy in the latest round of QE, £300m-worth, or 3% of the total, were issued by companies involved in energy extraction, the BoE spokeswoman said.

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