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‘Big four’ banks biggest backers of fossil fuel expansion: report

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The environmental campaign against the expansion of Australia’s fossil fuel industry, and in particular against the further development of coal and gas export projects in the Great Barrier Reef area, has turned its focus on the banks who are driving the growth with multi-billion dollar investments.

A new report has identified the ‘big four’ Australian banks – ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac – as the heaviest lenders to coal and gas export projects in the World Heritage Area, sparking a call for Australians to abandon these banks if they continue to invest in fossil fuel mines and exports.

The report, Financing Reef Destruction: How Banks are using our Money to Destroy a Natural Icon, by Market Forces and 350.org, finds that the four banks play a critical role in enabling major fossil fuel projects, lending a combined $3.8 billion to coal ports and LNG terminals in the Barrier Reef area since January 2008.

“The big banks are using the money of Australians who care about protecting the Great Barrier Reef to finance its destruction,” said Julien Vincent, Market Forces Lead Campaigner. “This is absolutely unacceptable, and as key decision-makers over new dirty coal and gas projects that would damage the Reef and drive global warming, the banks have to show leadership and refuse loans to these projects.”

A series of new coal and gas export projects, including mines, overland transport and export terminals are planned that would increase fossil fuel exports along Great Barrier Reef coastline. Companies including GVK and Adani (India), Samsung (Korea) and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation are attempting to open up access to coal and gas reserves in Australia.

The report also shows a trend of growing foreign investment, with institutions from China, India and the United States all lending multi-billion sums to fossil fuel projects in Australia. The single-biggest loan was an $A2.8 billion US Export-Import Bank facility for the Australia Pacific LNG plant on Curtis Island in the Great Barrier Reef Wold Heritage Area – a loan that has landed the bank in court over an alleged breach of the US Endangered Species Act.

The new report follows the release of a series of international and Australian studies warning that the world is hurtling towards a ‘peak planet’ scenario, with the global carbon budget on track to be consumed well before 2030.

The latest such report – Unburnable Carbon: Australia’s carbon bubble, released on Monday by The Climate Institute and the Carbon Tracker Initiative – warns that Australia’s huge coal industry is resting on a speculative bubble that ignores global carbon budgets and exposure to rapid devaluation.

“When you do the maths on avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, there simply isn’t enough room in the carbon budget for new fossil fuel projects,” said 350.org co-founder and author Bill McKibben, who is coming to Australia in June for a global warming speaking tour.

“We’ve got to wind down the fossil fuel era with great haste if we’re going to keep the planet from overheating,” McKibben said. “If new coal and gas projects amount to an exercise in digging up unburnable carbon, that makes the loans that enable these projects a massive economic gamble.”

Market Forces and 350.org are calling on customers of the big four banks to question what their money is being used for, and ultimately whether they want to remain customers of banks who are financing development that threatens the reef and contributes to global warming.

“It’s time for Australian bank customers to consider an ultimatum: either the banks rule out future loans to coal and gas mining and export projects in Australia by the end of the year, or the customers close their accounts and take their money elsewhere,” Vincent said.

“We hope customers taking action stimulates a positive reaction from the banks – if they won’t make the right decision for moral reasons maybe they’ll do it to preserve their own customer base.”

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