Top banker in oil-rich Norway says polluters can’t be cut off

Offshore operations in Norway Image: ConocoPhillips

The biggest bank in western Europe’s largest oil producing nation has provided more cash to companies that pollute than any of its Nordic peers.

But DNB ASA of Norway says such rankings fail to acknowledge that ostracizing all firms not yet deemed green could ultimately hurt the environment.

“Our baseline is that we finance Norwegian business,” Kjerstin Braathen, chief executive officer of Oslo-based DNB, said in an interview. The important step is to enable “the transition” away from fossil fuels, she said.

With about a fifth of Norway's ecomony directly tied to its oil and gas industry (and the rest indirectly affected by it), the country’s biggest lender has struggled to achieve the same sustainability credentials as its peers. The dilemma DNB faces gets to the heart of a debate around how best to defend environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals: by excluding all polluters, or by sticking with them to force change from the inside?

In a report published this month, DNB was singled out for providing more financial support to industries that hurt the environment than any other major bank in the Nordic region.

Even after signing the Paris agreement, the 10 biggest Nordic banks provided $67.3 billion in credit to companies and projects in the coal, oil and gas industries, according to a Feb. 1 joint publication by BankTrack, Profundo, Fair Finance Guide Norway, Fair Finance Guide Sweden, Oxfam IBIS and ActionAid Denmark. DNB provided the most credit to polluters ($20 billion), followed by SEB ($17 billion) and Nordea ($15 billion).

But Braathen says firms like Equinor ASA, Norway’s largest oil producer, and others in the industry have articulated “ambitious plans” when it comes to sustainability.

A question of definition

DNB has been doing ESG lending for “the last couple of years,” Braathen says. “On the corporate banking side, we’ve integrated sustainability in all of our industry and sector strategies.”

But the “major part” of DNB’s ESG strategy “is about impacting and helping the customers through the transition,” she said. And that “entails putting requirements on their future development.”

Braathen says she’s noticed a change over the past 12 months in particular, with corporate clients “now eagerly asking for our advice, looking to fund the transition they are planning to go through.”

“It’s a combination of push and pull,” Braathen said. “There are certain hard lines and hard restrictions.”

Companies that have “no plans or no thoughts around this area” face a world in which they “won’t get financed today,” she said.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Dear user, please be aware that we use cookies to help users navigate our website content and to help us understand how we can improve the user experience. If you have ideas for how we can improve our services, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to email us. By continuing to browse you agree to our use of cookies. Please see our Privacy & Cookie Usage Policy to learn more.