Filipino Catholic priest Edwin Gariguez has been lobbying top European banks this week to sever ties with companies involved in new fossil fuel projects in the Verde Island Passage (VIP), dubbed the “Amazon of the oceans,” in the Philippines.
The priest called on banking institutions such as Standard Chartered, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, and UBS to refrain from lending, underwriting, and investing in Shell and the conglomerate San Miguel.
Environmental activists accused the companies of driving the development of new and planned liquefied natural gas terminals in the VIP.
The VIP is considered the world’s most critical marine biodiversity center.
While major banks like Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, and UBS claimed that they are collaborating with NGOs to address emissions and climate change, they remained silent about their specific clients.
Father Gariguez, who received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2012, led a coalition aimed at protecting the VIP and demanding accountability for the devastating oil spill in the waters of Oriental Mindoro in recent weeks.
The VIP, which separates the Philippine islands of Luzon and Mindoro, plays a crucial role in generating income, with an estimated annual revenue of about 12 billion pesos (198 million euros) from fish catch alone.
Approximately two million fisherfolk and workers in the tourism industry also depend on the VIP for their livelihoods.
The VIP is home to a diverse ecosystem, including over 1,736 fish species, 338 coral species, and about 60 percent of all known shorefish species in the world.
Meanwhile, the group “Protect VIP” coalition called out BNP Paribas, a French international banking group, for continuing to finance Shell’s liquefied natural gas import terminal in the VIP.
Father Gariguez addressed BNP Paribas during its annual general meeting in Paris, questioning the bank’s financing of fossil gas projects in key biodiversity areas.
“We come here as truth-tellers representing fossil gas-impacted communities in the Philippines and yet we are told lies,” said the priest.
Despite BNP Paribas’ statement that financing gas infrastructure in the Philippines is not part of its strategy, Father Gariguez cited the urgency of the climate crisis.
“They don’t expect us to believe that our demands would be satisfied with such a simplistic answer. The only strategy that BNP Paribas must make is to stop funding fossil fuel projects that contribute largely to climate overshoot and step up its climate action,” said Father Gariguez.
BNP Paribas is currently facing the world’s first climate lawsuit against a commercial bank due to its significant support for fossil fuels and its contribution to climate change.
The bank is the largest funder of fossil fuel expansion in Europe and the fifth largest globally.