By Dieter Holger and Pietro Lombardi
U.S. banks have largely shunned a set of social-banking principles launched by the United Nations, unlike their international peers, as world leaders meet in New York for this year's U.N. general assembly.
The U.N. said Sunday that some 131 banks from around the world, representing $47 trillion in assets, have signed on as founding signatories to the Principles for Responsible Banking on Sunday, pledging to publish targets on how they will further the Paris Agreement on climate change, among other general commitments to sustainability. The U.N. first formed the PRB with 28 banks late last year.
The move comes as a flurry of companies and investors have made new environmental commitments for this year's climate week in New York, an event that has taken place since 2009.
Banks pledged to the U.N. principles agreed to use their lending and investments to transition the global economy away from fossil fuels and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
However, only four U.S. banks--representing just 3% of the signatories--joined the group, according to a list of members reviewed by Dow Jones. Half of the banks came from Europe.
A U.N. spokeswoman said some U.S. banks are still looking at joining, adding that the PRB would work to get more U.S. members signed up.
"It's a shame that U.S. banks seem to be lagging behind their peers," said Sonia Hierzig, senior projects manager at ShareAction, a U.K.-based advocacy group that mobilizes investors behind environmental and social causes.
Non-U.S. signatories include the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. (IDCBY), whose more than $4 trillion in assets make it the world's largest bank. It also includes other behemoths such as France's BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole SA (ACA.FR), as well as Germany's Deutsche Bank AG.
Citigroup Inc. (C) is the largest U.S. bank--and the only bank among the ten largest U.S. banks by assets--to make the pledge. In a statement to the U.N., Citigroup's Chief Executive Mike Corbat said the bank was "laser focused on incorporating sustainability principles into everything we do."
"Our clients, colleagues and stakeholders expect no less," he said.
Goldman Sachs Group, one of the large U.S. banks that didn't sign onto the group, said it already has targets similar to the campaign in place.
"We will continue to engage with the U.N. PRB as the details of the initiative develop further," a spokeswoman said.
Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), another U.S. bank absent from the group, didn't explain why it didn't sign up, but a spokeswoman said the company had "established a corporate responsibility strategy to address global social economic and environmental challenges over a five-year period" in 2016.
Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) declined to comment. Morgan Stanley didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
In Europe, HSBC Holdings PLC--the largest European bank by assets--was also missing from the founding signatories. In a statement, HSBC said it was "supportive" of the principles but needed to speak with its clients before making the pledge.
"Make no mistake, we fully support the leadership of the United Nations on this important topic," an HSBC spokesman said.
Write to Dieter Holger at firstname.lastname@example.org; @dieterholger