Bank loans scrutinized for harm to wildlife as well as climate

LONDON (Reuters) – Campaigners called on Wednesday for global banks to stop financing industrial activities driving animal and plant species toward extinction, after a report ranked 50 lenders involved in sectors that pose the greatest threat to wildlife.

While European and U.S. banks have faced years of pressure from regulators or environmental groups to act on climate change, their role in financing economic activities that destroy biodiversity is also coming under growing scrutiny.

Portfolio.earth, a network of researchers that published the “Bankrolling Extinction” report here, said none of the lenders had adequate systems to limit the impact of their loans on the web of animal and plant life that supports human well-being.

“Banks are starting to realize that if they invest in sectors that cause climate change, that will hurt their returns,” Liz Gallagher, director of portfolio.earth, told Reuters. “Banks need to understand that the same holds true for destroying biodiversity.”

The report found that in 2019, the 50 banks provided loans and underwriting of more than $2.6 trillion to sectors such as industrial farming and fishing, fossil fuels and infrastructure that scientists say are big drivers of biodiversity loss.

Kai Chan, an environmental scientist at the University of British Columbia, and a leading author of a global study published last year that found a million species are at imminent risk of extinction, endorsed the findings.

“Imagine a world in which projects can only raise capital when they have demonstrated that they will contribute meaningfully and positively to restoring the planet’s bounty and a safe climate for all? That’s the future this report envisions and builds toward,” he said.

Bank of America and Citigroup, identified among the 10 biggest lenders, declined to comment, referring Reuters to existing sustainability pledges. BNP Paribas, also ranked highly, said the authors had not contacted it or shared their methodology so it could not comment.

HSBC, also ranked in the top 10, pointed out that it had teamed up in August with climate change advisory firm Pollination Group to create an asset management venture focused on “natural capital”, which seeks to put a value on resources such as water, soil and air to help to protect the environment.

“Climate and nature are intricately linked, and the financial services industry can help customers transform their businesses to low carbon and also enable credible investments that preserve and protect nature and biodiversity,” said Daniel Klier, global head of sustainable finance at HSBC.

Banks also pointed to their support for various biodiversity initiatives, such as a new Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures tnfd.info designed to boost transparency among companies and the finance sector, but some investors want more.

The report emphasised the risks associated with lending to industrial agriculture, which is a major cause of biodiversity loss, particularly when tropical forests in the Amazon basin or Asia are cleared to grow commercial crops.

“This report from portfolio.earth confirms what our research also shows, that banks globally still need to step up their game and develop an approach

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Captive-bred salmon in wild may do more harm than good

Releasing captive-bred Atlantic salmon into the ocean, a long-standing practice to boost stocks for commercial fishing, reduces the rate at which wild populations reproduce and may ultimately do more harm than good, researchers cautioned Wednesday.

On average, salmon born in hatcheries in Ireland’s Burrishoole catchment only produced a third as many offspring in the North Atlantic compared to wild fish, according to a study in the Royal Society’s biological research journal Proceedings B.

“We have also shown that — in years where you have a greater input from captive-bred Atlantic salmon — the ability of the population as a whole to produce more wild-bred fish is reduced in subsequent years,” lead author Ronan James O’Sullivan, an evolutionary biologist at University College Cork, told AFP.

It has long been assumed that wild and captive-born fish were “ecologically equivalent,” but the new research shows otherwise.

Fish reared for any period of their life in an aquaculture environment, it turns out, somehow change compared to their wild counterparts.

– Productivity decline –

“You are not replacing like with like,” O’Sullivan said by phone. 

“What is really worrying is that, with an increased proportion of captive-born spawners, a population’s productivity” — the rate at which it reproduces — “declines linearly.”

“That means that when you have a healthy, self-sustaining population of salmon, there is no level at which it is safe to stock fish,” he added.

The stocking of salmon in the wild has been going on for nearly 150 years in the northern Pacific and Atlantic where several species of the highly prized fish are endemic.

For decades, scientists have tagged and taken genetic samples from virtually all salmon passing through the Burrishoole catchment, a low-lying maze of lakes and waterways in western Ireland.

Unlike farmed salmons, which spend their entire lives in aquaculture facilities, the captive-bred fish are released into the wild as juveniles, or smolts. 

Genetically hard-wired to swim downstream into the ocean, they spend time feeding and — if they have survived — return to the same catchment to spawn.

They are chaneled into a trap and identified.

Wild salmon are allowed to continue their instinct-driven odyssey further upstream to lay eggs, and — on the way back to the ocean — enter a separate trap, where they too are genetically catalogued.

Nowadays, captive-bred fish are prevented from moving upstream to segregate them from wild fish, but previous policies had resulted in the two groups having the opportunity to mate together in the wild.

“Because we can track the genetic pedigree of the fish over generations, we can count the number of offspring that a given fish has had,” O’Sullivan explained.

Scientists can also tell them apart visually because captive-born fish have a fin clipped and a metal tag in their nose.  

– With climate change, a ‘perfect storm’ –

  

There are several possible explanations as to why salmon reared in hatcheries change so quickly — to the apparent detriment of wild populations.

The first is genetic.

“Captive-bred

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