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As the Amazon burns, BlackRock named as world’s largest investor in deforestation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As fires rage across the Amazon, a report released today reveals that BlackRock, the world’s largest institutional investor with $6.5 trillion USD in assets, is deeply invested in the sectors most responsible for tropical forest destruction in the Amazon and around the world.

BlackRock’s Big Deforestation Problem, released by Friends of the Earth U.S., Amazon Watch, and Profundo, a Dutch financial research firm, tracked financial data between 2014 and 2018 to show that BlackRock is among the top three shareholders in 25 of the world’s largest publicly listed “deforestation-risk” companies – companies active in producing and trading soy, beef, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber and timber – and among the top ten shareholders in 50 more of the world’s largest deforestation-risk companies. The data further reveals that BlackRock’s holdings in these sectors have increased by more than half a billion dollars since 2014.

“BlackRock’s investments are directly causing the forest fires in the Amazon and deforestation around the globe,” said Jeff Conant, senior international forest program manager with Friends of the Earth U.S., the report’s lead author. “By pumping money into the world’s most destructive agribusiness companies, Blackrock is destroying the environment and trampling the rights of forest-dwelling people. As the Amazon burns, BlackRock is reaping the profits of environmental destruction and climate chaos.”

The report also shows that the vast majority of BlackRock’s deforestation-linked commodity holdings are made through index funds – passively managed funds that track the global marketplace.

“BlackRock claims that its hands are tied by index funds. It is wrong. BlackRock can follow the lead of other global asset managers and make change for the good of the rainforest, the climate, and of its customers by shifting investments out of companies wrecking the planet, and applying maximum pressure to change company behavior,” said Moira Birss of Amazon Watch.

“The fires currently raging in the Amazon clearly demonstrate the risk that agribusiness expansion poses for the Amazon rainforest, indigenous peoples, and the global climate. By expanding investments in the very industries complicit in that destruction, BlackRock is emboldening right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro to continue his quest to raze the Amazon for profit-making,” Birss added.

Earlier this month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that deforestation and destructive land use practices are responsible for nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions[i]. But rather than taking action to address the risks of catastrophic climate change, BlackRock’s investments in deforestation have been on the rise, the new report reveals.

While some global investors like the Norwegian Government Pension Fund have blacklisted many of the companies in BlackRock’s portfolios and urged others to address the Amazon fires, and leading pension funds like CalPERS have recognized deforestation as a material investment risk, BlackRock has taken no such actions, despite the public statements by CEO Larry Fink that companies need to have a “social purpose.”

To the contrary, as shown by this report and by previously published data, BlackRock’s own Environmental, Social and Governance funds contain dozens of companies implicated in forest destruction and displacement of Indigenous Peoples worldwide.

“Responsible stewardship is about more than just public statements,” said Ward Warmerdam of Profundo. “It is about aligning your investment strategy with broadly accepted environmental and social standards. It is about making demands of the companies you are invested in. And it is about using your leverage to ensure that your demands are met to prevent irreversible environmental and social damage.”

BlackRock has also come under fire for its disproportionately large holdings in coal, oil and gas at a time when the finance sector is facing growing climate risk. Analysis released earlier this month from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis showed that BlackRock lost $90 billion through its fossil fuel investments over the past decade.  

“While Blackrock talks about accountability in dealing with climate change, its actions are driving deforestation and climate change around the world,” said Conant. “Investing in agribusiness is second only to fossil fuels in driving the climate crisis. BlackRock: the world is waiting to see if you have a social purpose other than driving planetary destruction.”

BlackRock’s Big Deforestation Problem is available for download here.

Expert contact: Jeff Conant, (510) 900-0016, jconant@foe.org
Communications contact: Patrick Davis, (202) 222-0744, pdavis@foe.org

[i] Op cit. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. August 2019. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/srccl/

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