A Tory peer and ex-minister who called on the UK’s financial sector to cut its carbon emissions has joined a bank that has invested nearly £25 billion in fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement.
Nicky Morgan, a former MP who now sits in the House of Lords, joined Santander UK – part of the Spanish banking giant – as an Independent Non-Executive Director last month.
In 2019, while chair of the Treasury select committee, Morgan wrote in The Times about the importance of decarbonisation, noting the City of London’s funding of fossil fuels and the “pivotal role” banks could play in cutting emissions.
According to analysis by campaign group BankTrack, however, her new employer invested nearly £25 billion ($34 billion) in fossil fuels between 2016 and 2020, including over £65 million in coal mining last year.
A climate campaigner said Morgan’s new roles at the bank would be “hypocritical and selfish” if she didn’t push Santander to completely phase out fossil fuel financing.
In joining Santander UK, Morgan has also become Chair of its Board Responsible Banking Committee, and a member of the bank’s Board Audit Committee and Board Risk Committee.
In her Times piece, Morgan wrote: “The UK’s world-leading financial services sector has a pivotal role to play. It’s been reported that 15 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are funded by firms in the City of London, so changes here could have real global consequences.
“There is an opportunity for firms to unlock their green potential and fully embrace green finance, which is a financial product or service that supports the transition to a low carbon economy.”
She added: “There is, however, more work to be done to bring green issues into the mainstream of the financial services sector. If we get this right, the UK could become a global leader in this field.”
‘Pivotal Role to Play’
The role of the financial sector in climate change is coming under increasing scrutiny, with environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion recently targeting the City of London with two weeks of protests, calling on banks including Santander to end their investments in fossil fuels, echoing calls by the UN and International Energy Agency.
Henrieke Butijn, Climate and Human Rights campaigner at BankTrack, said: “Baroness Nicky Morgan has publicly expressed the view that the financial sector has a pivotal role to play in decarbonising society.
“We therefore expect that she will try her absolute best in her new roles, especially with the COP26 coming up, to move Santander towards a complete fossil fuel phase-out.
“If this is not the case, her decision to accept the different positions on the board of Santander UK, can be seen as nothing else than hypocritical and selfish.”
Morgan’s appointment at the bank was approved by the government’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), chaired by fellow Conservative peer Eric Pickles, provided she does not disclose any privileged information acquired while in government and does not lobby government on behalf of the bank.
While Acoba notes Morgan did not work directly with Santander while in government, she did have “limited dealings with Santander” when chair of the Treasury Select Committee “between July 2017 and July 2019″. In its assessment, published online last month, Acoba said she spoke at a Spanish Chamber of Commerce breakfast in October 2019 when three Santander representatives were on the attendee list.
In July, DeSmog reported that Claire O’Neill, former UK Energy Minister and original COP26 President, had been cleared to join FTI Consulting, a business consultancy known for running “astroturf” campaigns for fossil fuel companies. Its public relations clients include Drax, which runs the world’s largest biomass power station in North Yorkshire, the UK’s single largest source of emissions.
When asked, Santander said discussions about Morgan joining the board “took place well after she had stepped down from her government roles”.
A Santander spokesperson said: “Nicky brings a unique blend of public and private sector experience, both from her time in government and a wealth of knowledge from a number of sectors including legal, financial services, education, media and technology.”
They said the bank recognises “climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing society today” and that it is “firmly committed” to the objectives of the Paris Agreement, with a target of net-zero emissions by 2050.
“The ambition applies to both the group’s own operations, which are carbon neutral since 2020, and all client emissions that result from any lending, advisory or investment services provided by Santander”, they said.
“By 2030 Santander will stop providing financial services to power generation clients with more than 10 percent of revenues dependent on thermal coal and eliminate all exposure to thermal coal mining production worldwide.”
The spokesperson added: “We understand there is still much to do and Santander UK, as part of Santander Group, is working hard to further decarbonise its lending portfolio and support customers by developing innovative green products and services to help reduce their emissions.
“Nicky supports our ambition and approach.”
Morgan did not respond to a request for comment.