• Commercial banks are providing more money to the coal industry since the Paris Agreement
  • Japanese banks are top lenders, while China, Japan and India account for 70% of underwriting to coal companies
  • US investors hold 58% of institutional investments in the coal industry, with Japan in second place

Asia — Today, Urgewald and a group of more than 25 civil society organizations, including Reclaim Finance, Rainforest Action Network, and 350.org, published groundbreaking research on the financiers and investors behind the global coal industry.

The Global Coal Exit List (GCEL) shows that, in January 2021, 4,488 institutional investors held investments totaling US$ 1.03 trillion in companies operating along the thermal coal value chain world wide. Among the investors covered by the research are pension funds, mutual funds, asset managers, insurance companies, commercial banks, sovereign wealth funds and other types of institutional investors.

In past years, the scope of our financial research was limited to around 200 coal plant developers. Our new research, however, analyzes financial flows to all 934 companies on the Global Coal Exit List (GCEL). This is the first time anyone has attempted to analyze commercial banks’ and institutional investors’ exposure to the entire coal industry,” says Katrin Ganswindt, head of financial research at Urgewald.

Top Institutional Investors in the Coal Industry

With shares and bonds in value of US$ 602 billion, US investors collectively account for 58% of institutional investments in the global coal industry. Investors from Japan account for the second highest share of institutional investments in the coal industry, with holdings of US$ 81 billion. Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund alone holds bonds and shares in value of US$ 29 billion in companies listed on the GCEL. The third largest group are UK investors, whose collective holdings in the coal industry amount to US$ 47 billion.


The Biggest Lenders to the Coal Industry

Urgewald’s research identified 380 commercial banks that provided loans totaling US$ 315 billion to the coal industry over the past 2 years. The top 3 lenders are the Japanese banks Mizuho (US$ 22 billion), Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (US$ 21 billion) and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (US$ 18 billion). 

“The coal policies adopted by Japanese banks are among the weakest in the world. They only cover a small portion of banks’ lending and do not rule out corporate loans or underwriting for companies that are still building new coal plants in Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and elsewhere. Japan’s banks must stop pouring fuel on the fire and finally adopt comprehensive coal exclusion policies,” says Eri Watanabe from 350.org Japan

A regional breakdown of lenders from different countries shows that Japanese banks collectively provided US$ 75 billion in loans to the coal industry from October 2018 to October 2020. Commercial banks from Japanese banks alone accounted for 24% of total lending to companies on the Global Coal Exit List over the past two years. In total, Asian banks accounted for 39% of total lending.

The Biggest Underwriters of the Coal Industry

Over the same time period, 427 commercial banks channeled over US$ 808 billion to companies on the Global Coal Exit List through underwriting. The world’s top 10 underwriters are all Chinese financial institutions. The big 5 are in descending order, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (US$ 37 billion), the China International Trust and Investment Corporation (US$ 32 billion), the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (US$ 28 billion), the Bank of China (US$ 24 billion) and the China Everbright Group (US$ 23.7 billion).

“ICBC is the world’s biggest bank, and they have been involved in controversial coal projects such as the Bengkulu coal power plant Indonesia, and others worldwide. As we recover from COVID-19, investment in coal power will become even riskier. ICBC can become leaders by spearheading the transition to a clean, safe and just recovery as renewable energy investments generate returns while boosting employment opportunities. By doing so they can also contribute to China’s climate goals,” says Chuck Baclagon, 350 Asia Finance Campaigner.

While Chinese banks account for less than 6% of total lending to the coal industry, they account for 58% of underwriting. Through their underwriting, Chinese banks channeled US$ 467 billion to the coal industry over the past two years. Next in line are US banks (US$ 105 billion), Japanese banks (US$ 59 billion), Indian banks (US$ 36 billion) and UK banks (US$ 35 billion). Together, banks from these 5 countries account for 87% of total underwriting for the coal industry, with China, Japan and India accounting for 70%.

The fundamental difference is that Chinese and Indian banks almost exclusively underwrite bond and share issues of coal companies from their respective countries, while US, Japanese and UK banks provide underwriting services to coal companies all over the world.

Commercial Banks’ Support for the Coal Industry has Increased since Paris

The research also examined the development of banks’ lending and underwriting for the coal industry since January 2016. While direct lending for coal companies spiked in 2017, subsequent years show a downward trend in lending volumes. Underwriting of coal industry shares and bonds, however, has grown steadily since 2016. The alarming result of this analysis is that commercial banks are channeling more money to the coal industry than in 2016, the year after the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.

In 2016, banks provided US$ 491 billion through lending and underwriting to companies listed on the GCEL. By 2019, this amount had grown to US$ 543 billion, an increase of over 11%.

For 2020, the NGOs’ dataset only covers the period between January 1st and October 31st, but a comparison with the first 10 months of the preceding years indicates that commercial banks’ total support for the coal industry in 2020 was likely at least as high as in 2019. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, banks’ lending and underwriting for the coal industry amounted to US$ 456 billion in the first 10 months of 2020. This is US$ 3 billion more than were provided during the same reference period (US$ 453 billion between January 1st and October 31st) in 2019.  Asian banks were responsible for 61% of total lending and underwriting in 2019, and in 2020, this figure increased by 5% to an estimated 66%.

What needs to be done?

Ending the era of coal means ending the era of coal finance and investment. But the time to accomplish this task is quickly running out.

“While coal demand is falling in the United States and Europe, coal use is growing in Asia. Japan and China have both set lofty net-zero goals and they must meet them through a managed and determined phase out of fossil fuels. Banks in Japan and China must support their countries’ climate goals by withdrawing coal investments not just within their country but also abroad as that is where the vast majority of their investments are directed. This is the only way to prevent an unmitigated climate disaster that will affect communities in Asia and globally. I write this as another typhoon bears down on the Philippines, where I live. The climate disaster is now, it is not in the net-zero future,” says Baclagon.


“What we need are comprehensive, immediate coal exit policies. Insurers such as AXA, banks like Crédit Mutuel, UniCredit and Desjardins or asset managers like Ostrum have already shown what must be done by excluding most of the companies on the Global Coal Exit List from their portfolios. Now is the time for the finance industry to act. A speedy exit from coal finance and investment is not only do-able and desirable, it is a question of survival,” says Yann Louvel, policy analyst for the NGO Reclaim Finance.



  • The Global Coal Exit List (GCEL) is a comprehensive database of companies operating along the thermal coal value chain. It is produced annually by Urgewald and can be viewed at: www.coalexit.org
  • The research was carried out by Profundo, a not-for-profit research company based in the Netherlands. Profundo used several financial databases including Bloomberg, Refinitiv Eikon and IJGlobal to compile the data for this project. These databases, however, only report syndicated loans, i.e. loans, which are provided by a group of banks to an individual company. These financial databases do not report bilateral loans, where a company borrows money from only one bank, rather than from a group of lenders. A significant portion of commercial banks’ lending, namely all bilateral loans to companies featured on the GCEL, is therefore not captured by our data.
  • The data also has limitations on the investor side as many pension funds and insurers do not report on their holdings. While shareholding data is generally more complete, our research probably captures less than 1/3 of the bonds institutional investors hold in coal companies. It is therefore likely that the numbers for commercial banks’ lending to the coal industry and institutional investors’ bond holdings in the coal industry are significantly higher than our research shows.


Jacey Bingler, Urgewald, +49 175 5217571, jacey@urgewald.org

Angus Satow, Reclaim Finance, +44 7847754046, angus@reclaimfinance.org

Nicole Han, 350.org, +65 9828 1538, nicole.han@350.org