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Black and Indigenous Environmental Leaders Slam Citigroup for  Funding Fossil Fuels and Driving Environmental Racism

Actress and activist Jane Fonda and Sharon Lavigne, one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2024, joined the public hearing confronting Citigroup’s environmental racism.

The hearing examined how the bank’s funding of oil, coal, and gas directly harms Black, Indigenous, and Global South communities. It culminated in demands for Citigroup to immediately stop funding fossil fuels, publicly acknowledge harm the bank has caused communities of color, respect Indigenous rights, and invest in a just transition to sustainable energy.

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April 22, 2024

NEW YORK CITY – On Monday, April 22, 2024, environmental leaders from communities on the frontlines of climate change convened the first-of-its kind Earth Day hearing on Citigroup’s environmental racism. Actor and activist Jane Fonda kicked off the hearing and introduced the hearing chair, Roishetta Ozane, a Black leader and environmental activist from Sulphur, Louisiana, and founder of the Vessel Project. The hearing culminated in a set of demands on Citigroup aimed at fixing the harms the bank has caused to impacted communities, including immediately ending funding for fossil fuels, publicly acknowledging harm the bank has caused communities of color, respect Indigenous rights, and investing in a just transition to sustainable energy

Photos and videos of the hearing can be found here. Members of the media have full permission to all photos and videos. 

As the world’s second-largest funder of coal, oil, and gas, Citi has poured over $332 billion into climate-ravaging fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2016 – making billionaires even richer while everyday people are choking on wildfire smoke, losing their homes to floods, and trying to survive sweltering heat waves. 

Speakers at the hearing included Sharon Lavigne, of RISE St. James, among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2024; Olivia Bisa, President of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Chapra nationality, who has faced death threats for her opposition to fossil fuel projects in Peru; and Sister Susan Francois of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace in New Jersey which for three years has filed a shareholder resolution at Citi on Indigenous rights and fossil fuel funding. 

The hearing took place at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery and was organized by Climate Defenders, New York Communities for Change, STAND.earth, Stop the Money Pipeline, and Texas Campaign for the Environment. Panel topics included the health impacts of fossil fuel build-out on the Gulf South, defending indigenous peoples’ rights, and solutions to climate change. 

Black and Indigenous environmental activists are building a movement to stop big banks from destroying the planet and say that this hearing was just the beginning of a wave of actions.

Olivia Bisa, President of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Chapra Nation in Perú said, “Citi talks about respecting the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous communities as set down by the UN, but it has clients like Petroperú which refuse to recognize the right to say no of seven Indigenous nations in the Peruvian Amazon. Petroperu’s disregard for Indigenous rights should mean something to the banks that lend them money; but in reality their mutual business continues. If they are serious about Indigenous rights, Citi must hold its clients accountable to ensure that their due diligence adheres to international standards of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.” 

Roishetta Ozane, founder of the Vessel Project of Louisiana, said, “The petrochemical facilities Citigroup funds are not bringing economic development in our communities. They’re polluting the air and water and making us sick, including  my own children, three of whom suffer from asthma and one from eczema. Citigroup is hurting our communities, and it’s especially hurting Black community in the Gulf South. We want Citigroup to stop funding fossil fuels and to stop hurting our communities and our families.”

“I want Citigroup’s CEO Jane Fraser to look me in the eye and tell me who is supposed to take care of our community members who are sick from pollution — because we have a lot of illness from pollution in our community. And who is going to bury them.” said Manning Rollerson, founder of the Freeport Haven Project for Environmental Justice. “Who is going to pay for the ongoing harm to our community? First, Black residents of Freeport were ordered that we could only live in the East End, then we were denied services for years while paying taxes, and now our whole community has been displaced so that Port Freeport can build warehouses and parking lots to continue shipping petrochemicals.”

Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James, named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2024, said, “Where I live in St. James Parish is part of the notorious Cancer Alley – an 85-mile stretch in the Gulf South with high pollution and high rates of asthma and cancer. We have a funeral at least every week, sometimes two or three times a week. The cause is pollution from the 12 petrochemical plants and oil refineries within a 10-mile radius of St. James Parish. Citigroup could be part of the solution, but right now they are part of the problem since Citigroup has invested hundreds of millions into Formosa Plastics, which wants to open another plant in our Parish. That would be a death sentence for us.”

Sister Susan Francois, of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace, said, “I am supporting the hearing to show the true interest of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace in present and future generations impacted by the oil, gas and coal projects. Pope Francis has set out clearly the Church’s role in addressing projects in communities which result in a decline in their quality of life, the clearing of their land and the robbing of joy and hope for the future. Because of this, today’s hearing is of critical importance. For three years in a row, we have filed shareholder proposals with Citi asking for a report on the effectiveness of their policies to respect Indigenous rights. More than 30% of investors support this request because they know human rights violations are bad for business.”

Russell Armstrong, Senior Director, Campaigns & Advocacy for the Hip Hop Caucus, said, “I am participating in this hearing because financial institutions must prioritize climate justice and racial justice in all of their business decisions today for the possibility of a healthier and safer tomorrow. Repairing our communities will require the financial industry to agree that financing the fossil fuel industry is more than an ineligible use of funds, but is also harmful. Hip Hop Caucus is committed to strengthening the power of frontline communities of color.”

Armstrong continued, “In Citi’s Corporate Social Responsibility statements they say they “feel responsible for the community in which it operates” and we couldn’t agree more. That is why we are calling on Citibank to come meet with the frontline communities in the Gulf South and bear witness to how the additional billions in financing for fossil fuels since the 2016 Paris Agreements is not helping “build more sustainable, diverse and equitable communities” that they proudly stay they are “playing a leading role to drive the banking industry into a more sustainable future.

“We charge Citi with environmental racism: the bank’s record of harming communities of color has gone on too long,” Hannah Saggau, Fossil Free Citi Campaign Organizer at Stand.earth said. “We demand that Citi stop financing fossil fuel companies and start investing in frontline communities’ health and a climate-safe future.” 

Gabriel Alexandre, student at Leaders High School in Brooklyn, said, “Every year, during winter break, it seems as if my sister says the same, disappointing words to me: “How come there’s no snow this year? I miss making snow angels and having snowball fights!” And every year, we have to explain the same thing to her: The earth is getting warmer. This is why we’re demanding that Citigroup halt all investments into new oil and gas projects and instead invest money into green energy alternatives.”

Naomi Yoder,  Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Data Manager at the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University, said, “The evidence is clear: fossil fuels extraction and petrochemical production in the United States is an environmental injustice. We have the opportunity to change course, and we the people ask the banks and the corporations and the insurers to join us in enacting anti-racist, anti-oppressive policies, now.”

Below is a full list of demands that came out of the hearing. 

To begin addressing the harm caused by the $332 billion in financing for fossil fuels that Citi has provided since the Paris Agreement in 2016, Citi must commit to dramatically increasing financing of climate solutions and a just transition for and led by communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. This commitment must be overseen by an advisory committee made up of majority Black, Indigenous, low-income, and Global South climate leaders.

Citi executive leadership will publicly acknowledge and apologize for the harm they have inflicted by financing the fossil fuel industry, including the human and ecological mass deaths as a result of the climate crisis. The Executive leadership will meet with community leaders on the frontlines of the climate crisis. They will travel to regions that have been harmed to understand firsthand how the projects and companies that Citi finances have affected everyday people.

  1. Immediately stop financing new and expanding coal, oil, and gas projects and any companies expanding fossil fuels.
  2. Rapidly phase out all fossil fuel financing and demonstrate year-on-year reductions in fossil financing in line with minimizing climate harms and limiting global warming to well below 1.5°C.
  3. Ensure that clients fully respect all rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) as articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  4. End financing for any projects or companies that demonstrate a pattern of violating human rights and self-determination, especially for Indigenous, Black, low-income and communities of color.
  5. Adopt or strengthen sectoral and regional exclusion policies, including for coal, LNG, Arctic, Gulf South and offshore/ultra-deep drilling.
  6. Scale up investments in renewables and proven climate energy solutions in line with a just transition and the needs outlined by the International Energy Agency, beyond the inadequate goals currently set by the bank.

Press Contacts:

Jonathan Westin, Climate Defenders, 917 637 9501

Emily Pomilio, Stand.earth, [email protected]

Alicé Nascimento, New York Communities for Change, [email protected]