Australia’s big banks would like you to think they care about climate change and the environment. But don’t believe them.
A new report by Greenpeace Australia has revealed the “big four” — Westpac, ANZ, Commonwealth and NAB — are investing billions of dollars in Australia’s dirty coal boom.
Burning coal for energy is Australia’s single biggest contributor to climate change, making more than a third of the country’s greenhouse gas pollution. Australia is also the world’s biggest coal exporter — and the export trade is growing fast.
Despite warnings from climate scientists to cut emissions, there are plans to build 12 new coal-fired power stations across the country. If built, they will raise Australia’s emissions by a further 7%.
The big banks are central to making this happen.
The report, titled Pillars of Pollution, said: “The role of the big four banks is crucial for the financing of coal power stations in Australia. If ANZ, NAB, Commonwealth and Westpac all refused to finance new coal, it would significantly increase the risk and cost of these projects.”
Greenpeace commissioned finance research group Profundo to look into the banks’ coal investments over the past five years. It found ANZ is the biggest financial backer of new coal-fired power stations and the biggest backer of coal-related projects overall. The Commonwealth Bank is the biggest backer of coal export ports.
The report pointed out that the banks’ actions fly in the face of their public commitments to respect ecological sustainability.
It said ANZ had “committed to fund only new projects that can be developed and operated according to sound social and environmental standards”. But in the past five years, the company has invested $650 million in coal-fired power and $727 million in coal mining.
The Commonwealth Bank had said it wanted “to build a sustainable future and contribute to a better environment for all Australians”. Yet Profundo found the bank has invested $546 million in coal-fired power, $654 million in coal mining and $440 million in coal ports since 2005.
NAB has invested $382 million in coal-fired power and $633 million in coal mining. Meanwhile, Westpac (which includes St George Bank) threw in $454 million for coal-fired power, $354 million for coal mining and put $220 million into coal ports.
Pillars of Pollution said the big four banks were happy to accept industry awards for sustainability, but showed no sign of switching their investments away from coal and towards renewable energy.
For example, Westpac won Money Magazine’s “Climate Leadership Award” for 2010. The bank also boasts it is “the only Australian bank listed on the 2010 'Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations’.”
But the Greenpeace report said: “Over the last five years, Australia’s big banks have invested over $5 billion into mining, transporting and burning coal and only $0.78 billion into renewable energy.”
[Read the Greenpeace Pillars of Pollution report in full.]