Groundbreaking Research Reveals the Financiers of the Coal Industry

Press Release
Berlin, February 25th 2021


  • US investors hold 58% of institutional investments in the coal industry
  • Commercial banks providing more money to the coal industry than in 2016
  • Japanese banks are top lenders, Chinese banks top underwriters

Today, Urgewald, Reclaim Finance, Rainforest Action Network, Japan and 25 further NGO partners published groundbreaking research on the financiers and investors behind the global coal industry. “This is the first time anyone has attempted to analyze commercial banks’ and institutional investors’ exposure to the entire coal industry. 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)[1],” says Katrin Ganswindt, head of financial research at Urgewald.

Top Institutional Investors in the Coal Industry

In January 2021, 4,488 institutional investors held investments totaling US$ 1.03 trillion in companies operating along the thermal coal value chain. Among the investors covered by the NGOs’ research are pension funds, mutual funds, asset managers, insurance companies, hedge funds, commercial banks, sovereign wealth funds and other types of institutional investors.

The world’s largest institutional investor in the coal industry is the US mutual fund company Vanguard with holdings of almost US$ 86 billion. It is closely followed by BlackRock, which holds investments of over US$ 84 billion in the coal industry. Together, these two investment giants account for 17% of institutional investments in the global coal industry. Based on their size, BlackRock and Vanguard’s coal investments are in a class of their own, but they are also representative of a much bigger problem. US investors are the single largest provider of institutional investment to companies on the Global Coal Exit List. With shares and bonds in value of US$ 602 billion, US investors collectively account for 58% of institutional investments in the global coal industry.

“While many large EU investors have begun screening coal companies out of their portfolios, the vast majority of US investors have refused to adopt coal exit policies. Our research underscores how dire the consequences of this failure are,” says Katrin Ganswindt. “We welcome President Biden’s Executive Order to end public financing for fossil fuels abroad, but the new administration must also address the role of Wall Street as a huge driver of climate pollution around the world. Its massive investments in the coal industry are driving us ever deeper into a climate crisis,” comments Paddy McCully, Climate and Energy Program Director at Rainforest Action Network.

Country breakdown

With holdings of US$ 81 billion, investors from Japan account for the second highest share of institutional investments in the coal industry. 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. “While the UK government recently announced that it will end public financing for overseas fossil fuel projects in 2021, most UK institutional investors have not even begun to expel coal from their portfolios. Unless they do their homework soon, the UK-hosted COP 26 will become a big embarrassment for these institutions,” states Katrin Ganswindt.

The Biggest Lenders to the Coal Industry

Urgewald’s research identified 381 commercial banks that provided loans totaling US$ 315 billion to the coal industry over the past 2 years.[2] 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 4th and 5th largest lenders to the coal industry are Citigroup (US$ 13.5 billion) and Barclays (US$ 13.4 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 Japan.

A regional breakdown of lenders from different countries shows that Japanese banks collectively provided US $ 76 billion in loans to the coal industry between October 2018 and October 2020. Next in line are banks from the United States (US$ 68 billion) and banks from the UK (US$ 22 billion). Commercial banks from these three countries alone accounted for 52% of total lending to companies on the Global Coal Exit List over the past two years.

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.[3] 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).

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$ 104 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. 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 NGOs’ 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 shown in the graph below: Commercial banks’ are channeling more money to the coal industry than in 2016, the year after the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.

Loans and Underwriting

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 almost 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.

“These numbers provide a sobering reality check on bank’s climate commitments,” says Yann Louvel, policy analyst for the NGO Reclaim Finance. Reclaim Finance maintains an online “Coal Policy Tool” that tracks and ranks all coal policies announced by financial institutions. According to its tool, 88 commercial banks have now adopted a coal policy, but out of this total only 4 banks have adopted “robust” coal exclusion policies.

“The new financial data confirms the findings of our Coal Policy Tool: The vast majority of banks’ coal policies have so many loopholes that their impact is almost meaningless,” says Louvel. A case in point is Citigroup, which announced in April 2020 that it will phase out coal mining by 2030. “This policy has zero impact on Citigroup’s enormous support for coal power producers and coal plant developers. And if you read the small print, the phase-out only applies to companies that generate at least 25% of their revenues from thermal coal mining, thus letting large diversified coal miners slip out of the net. Sadly, this kind of evasion is par for the course,” explains Louvel.

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. “Vague net zero announcements for 2050 - an entire generation into the future - are masking financial institutions’ refusal to take decisive action now. The bulk of coal financing and investment must be ended before 2030. This is the decade that counts,” says McCully. The NGOs’ research shows that the bulk of coal investment, lending and underwriting can be traced to financial actors in a dozen countries. “If we do not move financial actors in the US, Japan, China, the UK and other key countries to exit coal soon, they will propel us into a future where the Paris climate goals are no longer within reach,” warns Ganswindt.

“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[4] 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 Louvel.

Rankings of the top “Dirty Thirty” investors, lenders and underwriters to the coal industry are listed in the annex of the PDF attached below. Find more information and the full data here:  


For further information, please contact:

Jacey Bingler, Communications Coordinator, Urgewald, +49-175-5217571

Angus Satow, Communications Coordinator, Reclaim Finance, +44-7847754046


Note on our Research

The research for this briefing 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.

Our 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.


[1] The 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:
[2] Between October 1st 2018 and October 31st 2020.

[3| Underwriting or investment banking refers to the process by which banks raise investment capital for companies by issuing bonds or shares on their behalf and selling them to investors such as pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds etc.
[4] Ostrum is the asset manager of the French bank Natixis