Lucie Pinson

2020 Goldman Prize Recipient

  • France
  • Climate & Energy

In 2017, Lucie Pinson’s activism successfully pressured France’s three largest banks to eliminate financing for new coal projects and coal companies. She then compelled French insurance companies to follow suit: between 2017 and 2019, mega insurers AXA and SCOR announced plans to end insurance coverage for coal projects.

The Secret Persistence of Coal

Despite decades of research and stark evidence of its many dangers, coal remains the world’s primary source of energy, especially in the developing world. The burning of coal is responsible for 46% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and, as such, is a proven driver of climate change. Coal plants emit toxic lead, cadmium, trace amounts of uranium, carbon monoxide, arsenic, and volatile organic compounds—all environmental contaminants and health hazards for communities and workers alike. A typical coal plant generates 3.5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

The French financial sector has long played a key role in financing and insuring the global expansion of the coal power industry. Every new coal plant depends on financing from private banks and investors, and of the 20 international banks responsible for 75% of coal industry loans, three are French. Between 2007 and 2013, France’s three largest banks—BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, and Société Générale—provided loans of more than $32 billion to the global coal industry.

A Climate Soldier

Lucie Pinson, 34, grew up in Nantes, France, and became involved in environmental and social justice while attending college in South Africa. In that country, she learned about the harmful impacts of coal power plants and joined local efforts to fight coal projects financed by French banks. Back in France, Pinson joined Friends of the Earth, France to lead efforts to fight coal projects backed by French financial institutions. She then became a campaigner for the Sunrise Project and dived into anti-coal advocacy to address the central role of finance in climate change. Pinson is committed to protecting the Earth for future generations.

Stopping Coal Development at the Source

In 2013, two years before COP21, when the issue of climate change was gaining attention, Pinson began educating herself on coal finance policy. Pivoting from the existing strategy of mobilizing against specific projects, she decided to tackle the big picture: overall financial support for the entire coal industry. Soon, she launched a media campaign to pressure French banks by targeting their reputations. She cultivated strong relationships with journalists, providing sophisticated financial reports and research to show banks’ direct involvement in coal projects. Even while pressuring them, Pinson developed a solid working relationship with the staff at those institutions, steadfastly making the case against “short-termism” in their planning.

Pinson collaborated with other NGOs in order to mobilize demonstrations at bank offices and target them from every flank. She and her allies distributed leaflets to bank customers, purchased shares of banks’ stock so Pinson could attend shareholder meetings, facilitated workshops and conferences, and publicly ranked French banks based on their coal portfolios and policies. She wrote personal letters to executives of each bank, laying out expectations for the coming year, thus ensuring that the banks were continually confronted with anti-coal demands.

Pinson kept pressure on each of the banks for years—often leveraging one bank’s policies and reputation against the others—and pushed them into a bind: no financial institution wanted to be the last to act on climate change and coal policy. By 2017, all French banks had committed to no longer finance new coal projects.

With the progress made on banks, Pinson started also focusing on insurers. By 2017, AXA and SCOR—two of the world’s largest re-insurers—became the first to announce that they would no longer insure new coal projects. In December 2017, AXA declared that it would also divest roughly $3.5 billion from the coal and tar sands industry.

In June 2019, Crédit Agricole announced a staggered total phase-out of coal from its portfolio, in alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement targets. AXA and other financial institutions have since followed suit.

Pinson’s unique approach of forming relationships with key institutions while publicly holding them accountable successfully pressured France’s three largest banks and two largest insurance companies to stop financing or insuring coal and coal-related projects. This is a key precedent for financial institutions around the world, which are now, because of Pinson’s work, engaged in a race to the top to be more responsible actors on climate impact. As a result of her work with French institutions, 22 global banks and 17 insurers now cease to support coal development. Pinson’s activism has already resulted in the adoption of new coal policies by investors managing more than $7 billion in assets. She vows not to stop until financial institutions cease all new investment in coal.

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