JOHANNESBURG, May 30 (Reuters) - South Africa's Standard Bank Group (SBKJ.J) funded renewable energy projects worth 55 billion rand ($2.79 billion) in 2022, exceeding its green financing target and putting it ahead of the world's top lenders, it said on Tuesday.

Africa's biggest lender by assets earmarked 40 billion rand for sustainable projects last year, Kenny Fihla, its chief executive for Corporate and Investment Banking, said in slides prepared for journalists.

However, in October he pegged that target at 50 billion rand. Standard Bank officials were not immediately available to explain the difference.

Standard Bank has been regularly criticised by environmental advocates and activist investors for funding climate-polluting hydrocarbon assets on the continent.

Some of its controversial projects include its advisory role in TotalEnergies' (TTEF.PA) 1,443-km (897-mile) East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and support for a major gas project in Mozambique.

"Our financing of renewable energy is 439% greater than our financing of non-renewable energy," Filha said, adding this achievement was significant when compared with the world's largest financiers.

At this rate it is tracking ahead of its 2026 target, he said.

The lender has set a target to finance 250 billion to 300 billion rand worth of sustainable projects between 2021 and 2026 as part of a plan to cut its Scope 3 emissions, those caused by its financing of fossil fuel projects.

While most of the banks in South Africa - Nedbank (NEDJ.J), FirstRand (FSRJ.J) and Absa Group (ABGJ.J), amongst the biggest on the continent - have distanced themselves from financing the EACOP pipeline, they have not moved away from coal.

Most lenders except Nedbank have said they would reduce exposure to coal progressively given the developmental needs of the continent.

"I think it's not a surprise that our exposure, as we sit now, to fossil fuel is higher," he said, but did not share a target on a cut-off to funding coal, oil and gas projects.

It aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions from its portfolio of financed emissions by 2050.

($1 = 19.7125 rand)

Reporting by Anait Miridzhanian; Editing by Promit Mukherjee and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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