Financing Fossil Fuels: From Hong Kong Hallways to Haunted Homes

According to the 2020 Banking on Climate Change Report, the world’s major financial firms have funneled $2.7 trillion US dollars into fossil fuels extraction since we signed the Paris Agreement.

Today, I walked the streets of Hong Kong’s banking district, to try to contemplate the wide-reaching links these grand hallways have on communities around the world. 

In 2019, data from the Climate Accountability Institute revealed that just 20 fossil fuel companies are responsible for a third of all carbon emissions. Many of the banks responsible can be found here, on my walk. 

In the past few years, several of them have made pledges to shift to more sustainable portfolios. But according to Bank Track, words are cheap,  and “major global banks’ fossil financing has increased each year since Paris”. 

Since I’m a photographer, and try to support photographers around the world, I thought I’d take you on my walk, and a global travel blog connecting these grand skyscrapers and the projects they finance.

As a little reminder of the real-life connections of button-down, fossil fuel investments and the communities they impact. 


Hong Kong Exchange Square. On March 31, 2020, TC Energy announced its decision to proceed with the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline with the support from the Alberta government. The five biggest Canadian banks (TD, RBC, CIBC, Bank of Montreal, and Scotiabank) have provided two-thirds of the finance ($69.803 billion USD) to the top 35 tar sands extraction and pipeline companies. The Exchange Square, a building complex in Hong Kong, houses the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the Bank of Montreal. © Katherine Cheng. May 8, 2020.

Aerial View of the Syncrude Tar Sands Mine in northern Alberta, north of Fort McMurray
. Buried below northern Alberta in Canada is the world’s third largest oil reserve – known as the tar sands. Spread out over an area the size of Florida, tar sands are one of the dirtiest types of oil on the planet. © Jiri Rezac/Greenpeace. June 20, 2009.


Bank of America. Bank of America saw the largest absolute increase in fossil financing last year with an increase of $13.1 billion USD, and is the third largest contributor to fracked oil and gas with an investment of $30.267 billion USD between 2016 to 2019. © Katherine Cheng. May 8, 2020.

Explosive Water from Fracking in the USA. Sherrie Vargson ignites the water coming out of her kitchen faucet in Pennsylvania. Methane in her well, just 100 feet from her house, has damaged her health. © Les Stone/Greenpeace. April 18, 2012.


China Construction Bank. Coal mine funding remains dominated by Chinese banks, with more than 65% of the power supply in China coming from coal and 72% of coal plants outside of China being financed by Chinese banks. In a scramble to recover an economy that has been stunted by Covid-19, a wave of new coal-powered projects has been approved in the first quarter. As the world’s number one coal mining funder, the China Construction Bank has provided a total of $13.2 billion USD to coal mining companies between 2016 and 2019. © Katherine Cheng. May 8, 2020.

Industrial Waste Water in China. Waste water from an open-pit coal mine is discharged. The Yellow River, one of the longest and most iconic waterways in China, has been polluted due to the coal-processing plants nearby. © Lu Guang / Greenpeace. January 10, 2014.


Bank of China. Bank of China is China’s biggest fossil fuel funder since 2016, contributing a total of $83.767 billion to companies with fossil fuel investments since that time. Despite China’s vows to decrease reliance on coal back in 2017, the Chinese government seems to have been back-tracking on these promises since late 2019 and has become the largest funder of coal power projects abroad. © Katherine Cheng. May 8, 2020.

Herder and Sheep in Central Java. A shepherdess watches over her flock of sheep near a coal power plant. Coal powered plants emit a number of airborne toxins and pollutants such as mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and heavy metals. © Kemal Jufri/Greenpeace. December 25, 2012.


HSBC. Despite a pledge to strengthen a sustainable investment portfolio back in 2018, the 2020 Banking on Climate Change report found that HSBC has invested $86.528 billion into fossil fuels in the period 2016-2019. $13.711 billion of those have gone into offshore oil and gas. 2019 saw the highest number of offshore discoveries through exploration since 2013, with HSBC being one of the three main funders of companies that heavily explore new oil and gas reserves. © Katherine Cheng. May 8, 2020.

Oil Platform Fire Gulf of Mexico. An explosion took place early on April 1, 2015 in the Gulf of Mexico, killing four people and sending terrified workers leaping into the sea. State-run oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, said the blast injured 16 workers, and forced the evacuation of 300. From 2016-2019, Petroleos Mexicanos has been the top recipient of fossil fuel financing by HSBC. © Greenpeace. April 3, 2015.


JP Morgan Chase. JP Morgan Chase is renowned as the biggest financier of fossil fuels by far, investing a total of $268.593 billion USD in fossil fuels from 2016-2019.  © Katherine Cheng. May 8, 2020.

Rosneft Oil Spill. An activist is reflected in an oil spill near Pyt-Yah, Russia. More than 10,000 oil leaks have been reported in Russia in previous years, and the Hydrometeorological Centre of Russia estimates that 4.5m tonnes of oil are spilled on the Russian mainland each year. In 2017, JP Morgan Chase was granted permission to finance oil giant Rosneft© Denis Sinyakov/Greenpeace. May 29, 2013.

This series was inspired by the Market Landscape guided tour organized in 2019 by the Canadian Centre for Architecture, which linked the landscape of Hong Kong’s urban financial district to the effects that the financial firms have on the world. To learn more, you can check out their audio documentary and interactive research.

Header photo by Katherine Cheng