Symbolic or Substantive: Investment Banks, Climate Strategies and Fossil Fuels

79 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2020

Date Written: August 30, 2019


Investment banks contribute indirectly to the issue of climate change through the raising of capital for fossil fuel companies. Although they implement climate strategies to make the company more environmentally friendly, it is hard to see how effective they are in context of the massive fossil fuel investments they make concurrently. Investment banks are extremely powerful in the way they can direct the flow of capital to different projects, and this makes them an interesting subject in a time of climate crisis, with ecological and societal collapse looming on the horizon. This research project aims to discover to what extent the climate strategies of investment banks are substantive or symbolic in the context of fossil fuel financing. This is assessed by debating whether two climate strategies, Environmental and Social Risk Management and Green Products, affect the value-creating process of the bank in the context of fossil fuels, termed contextualised deflective decoupling by this study. This will be achieved by examining the Environmental, Social and Governance reports and Environmental and Social Risk Management Policy Statements of investment banks and comparing them with a report which publicises how banks are complicit in financing climate change. Content analysis was utilised to gather qualitative and quantitative data from the documents to analyse and compare the quantities of green and fossil fuel capital, and also to gain a more nuanced understanding of the way banks engage in contextualised deflective decoupling through discourse. The study concludes that both climate strategies analysed are examples of contextualised deflective decoupling and that banks cannot be relied upon to reduce their indirect impact on climate change through these self-regulatory policies. Regulation must be implemented globally to restrict fossil fuel financing to combat global warming. These findings should inform policy change to impose more restrictions on investment banks’ activities.

Keywords: climate change, investment banks, fossil fuels, climate strategies

Suggested Citation

Roxburgh, Venetia, Symbolic or Substantive: Investment Banks, Climate Strategies and Fossil Fuels (August 30, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Venetia Roxburgh (Contact Author)

University College London ( email )

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

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