European lenders have drawn praise for cutting trade finance support for oil exports from the Amazon rainforest region, but campaign groups say banks are still providing other types of financial support that cause devastating environmental damage. 

BNP Paribas was hailed by non-government organisations this month after the Paris-headquartered bank announced it would “no longer finance any oil and gas projects and related infrastructure” across the entire Amazon region. 

The lender also said it would cut finance to any company involved in production based on Amazon oil and gas reserves, while also exiting Arctic oil and halting financing for companies with more than 10% of activities in tar sands and shale oil and gas as part of an updated climate strategy. 

Campaign group Stand.Earth, which has repeatedly highlighted the banking industry’s impact on deforestation, pollution and displacement of indigenous communities in the Amazon, describes the commitment as “a momentous move for the rainforest currently at a tipping point of ecological collapse”. 

BNP Paribas is currently involved in US$13bn-worth of pre-existing deals across loans and bond underwriting activities that support the region’s oil and gas industry, the group says. 

“If BNP follows through on its new commitment, it will have a significant impact on oil and gas operations on the ground in the Amazon,” Stand.Earth says. 

Dutch lender Rabobank has also ruled out oil-related business across the entire Amazon region, a spokesperson tells GTR. 

“Rabobank does not finance oil business – exploration, extraction or infrastructure – in the whole Amazon,” they say. “We have never financed oil distraction or exploration in the Amazon, and we have exited trade of Amazon oil since January 2021.” 

Those decisions follow research by Stand.Earth and fellow campaign group Amazon Watch, published in January last year, that named the duo among six banks heavily involved in supporting oil exports from the Amazon. 

Along with Credit Suisse, ING, UBS and Natixis, they were accused of financing sales of Amazon oil to US buyers worth a total of US$5.5bn since 2009 – equivalent to more than 50% of all financing provided for such trade. 

Though three of those four lenders tell GTR they have also restricted their financing activity in the region, those efforts have generally focused on trade finance transactions, and have so far been limited to Ecuador and Peru. 

A spokesperson for Credit Suisse says the bank “reviewed its exposure to the trade of crude from the Ecuadorian or Peruvian Amazon and made the decision to phase out trade finance services for the export of such crude oil” following last year’s report from Stand.Earth. “Since that time, our position is unchanged.” 

ING says it decided last year not to enter into new contracts for exports from Ecuador and Peru, and does not finance exploration or production in the two countries. 

A Natixis spokesperson says the bank no longer supports trade finance transactions involving Ecuadorian crude oil, and has no remaining exposure. 

UBS did not respond when contacted. 

A source familiar with the Stand.Earth and Amazon Watch campaign says the focus on Ecuador and Peru is “significant”, with around 90% of Amazon oil exports originating in Ecuador. 

“But a lot of the banks’ commitments on paper have also focused on trade finance,” they say. “That’s one thing, but what about direct project finance, or finance for infrastructure developments? 

“There are also loopholes around indirect financing. For example, we see various kinds of block operators that are active in multiple countries. You might not be providing letters of credit for trade transactions, but if you’re a bookrunner on a revolving credit facility for a block operator, or even a commodity trader that’s active in Amazon oil, you could be supporting this activity anyway.” 

GTR understands that initial research suggests direct and indirect financing for block operators involved in Amazon oil activity totals several billions of dollars. 

To combat those wider risks, Stand.Earth is calling for banks to introduce Amazon-wide exclusion policies covering all oil and gas finance and investment. 

The group says similar policies for the Arctic region already in place at many banks “are an example and a broad roadmap for a similar commitment in the Amazon”. 

Marlon Vargas, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, says BNP Paribas’ adoption of such a policy is “a major milestone for us as indigenous peoples”. 

“This decision affirms what we have been calling for – that financing oil extraction in the Amazon is putting our lives, lands, and cultures at risk, and the health of our entire planet, and must stop,” he says. “But we need other banks to follow suit. No one should be bankrolling oil extraction and destruction in the Amazon.”