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Is it time for a Principles for Responsible Investment Banking?

While banks have made progress on integrating environmental considerations into areas such as project finance and corporate lending, investment bankers have so far faced few – if any – sustainability-related restrictions on their activities.

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On May 29, a fuel tank at a thermal power plant owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) in the Russian Arctic failed, flooding the surrounding rivers and subsoil with 21,000 tonnes of diesel oil.

Nornickel claimed the accident was due to melting permafrost. Russian authorities – and environmental groups – disagreed, blaming it on negligence and lack of investment in infrastructure. The company was asked to pay a record Rb148 billion ($2 billion) in compensation.

This was not an isolated incident. Nornickel has a long history of egregious pollution, both deliberate and accidental. It is the world’s largest producer of sulphur dioxide, which it regularly emits in quantities sufficient to cause health damage in communities in Russia, Finland and Norway.

This summer’s spill was also the second in less than four years. In September 2016, contaminated water from a Nornickel metallurgical plant in Norilsk turned the Daldykan river blood red.

Barely three months after its latest environmental disaster, Nornickel was able to raise $500 million of funding in international markets

Maintaining a proud tradition of lack of transparency, the company tried for several weeks to deny any link to that incident.

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