Sen. Elizabeth Warren is calling for U.S. financial regulators to "crack down" on Wall Street, blaming major firms for catalyzing climate change by financing fossil fuel production.

The Massachusetts Democrat cited a recent report by environmental group Sierra Club and think tank the Center for American Progress, which calculated that last year, leading banks and asset managers together were responsible for enough greenhouse gas emissions to put them in the company of leading global emitters.


"The volume of greenhouse gas emitted by the financial-services industry is outrageous. If it were a country it would rank as the fifth-largest emitter in the world," Warren wrote in a tweet on Monday. "Regulators need to crack down on the financial sector's role in the #ClimateCrisis."

The study in question established that the United States's 18 largest banks and asset managers financed the equivalent of 1.968 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2020. If the sector were a country, the study found, that would make it the world's fifth-largest emitter behind China, the U.S., India, and Russia.

Climate hawks are turning to financial regulation as a means of stunting oil, gas, and coal production and reducing emissions, especially as more stringent congressionally authorized restrictions on the fossil fuel industry remain outstanding due to lack of consensus in Congress.

A number of major Wall Street firms have already voluntarily committed to restricting the financing of fossil fuels, with coal, the most emissions-intensive fuel commodity, being a prime target.

JPMorgan Chase, one of the banks included in the above report's calculations, released an environmental and social policy framework in October, which said the firm will not provide financing or advisory services to clients who get most of their revenues from the extraction of coal. The policy also targets the end of 2024 to phase out “remaining credit exposure to such clients.”

But the Sierra Club study maintained that the sector "has not yet responded in a manner that suggests an understanding of either the scale of the crisis or the sector’s role in causing it," and other critical lawmakers like Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse complained similarly about a lack of action.

In the meantime, the Biden administration has made its own moves favoring climate change-related financial regulations. The Financial Stability Oversight Council, which is led by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and is made up of top officials at federal agencies such as the Federal Reserve and Securities and Exchange Commission, issued a report in October for the first time establishing that climate change poses an "emerging and increasing" risk to financial stability.

FSOC recommended an enhancement of "climate-related disclosures" in order "to give investors and market participants the information they need to make informed decisions."

Republicans have come out strongly against the use of financial regulation to fuel the Democrats' energy and climate agenda.

"The real risk here is of a political nature," Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, ranking member of the Banking Committee, said in response to the FSOC report. "This could open the door to unelected, unaccountable financial regulators misusing their powers to choke off capital to energy companies and weaken the economy."


Oil and gas industry leaders have also blamed both the Biden administration's regulatory direction and decisions by financial institutions to withhold financing for restricting producers' access to capital, thereby fueling the strain on energy markets.