Extinction Rebellion targets Commonwealth Bank

XR activists protest on August 12. Photo: AJ Tennant

Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists protested outside the Commonwealth Bank headquarters on August 12, demanding the bank end its investment in fossil fuel projects.

CommBank committed in January 2016 to limit global heating in line with the Paris Agreement. Since then it has loaned more than $12 billion to coal, oil and gas projects — making it the biggest lender to the fossil fuel industry.

Fifteen activists organised a theatrical spectacle in under three minutes, with music. Bank staff had to walk past a banner that read “Bank of Death” while chalk artists performed a “die-in”.

All observed the COVID-19 restrictions, wearing masks and maintaining a two-metre distance. Police were called and, after nearly an hour of negotiating, protesters decided to leave.

Dressed in a white boiler suit and a Soviet-era gas mask, Extinction Rebel and father-of-two Ben Burdett said: “CommBank thinks it can just switch its money from coal to gas, but science tells us expanding gas projects will send us shooting over the 1.5-2.0° Celsius limits that threaten human civilisation.”

One protester was questioned over “malicious damage” to property by creating chalk outlines on the ground. Meanwhile, the chalk was being washed away by a cleaner.

In June, the bank had breached its own climate policies by loaning finance to global gas projects. 

CommBank has loaned to new fossil fuel projects that, over their lifetimes, would produce 5.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide — enough to cancel out the gains made by Australia’s emission reductions target more than 12 times over.

“If we want to be able to look our grandchildren in the eyes, we need to stand up to dirty polluters and those who fund them,” retiree and XR activist Anna Russell told Green Left. “CommBank is fuelling this crisis and it needs to stop.”

This was the first disruptive public action by XR in New South Wales since the COVID-19 restrictions came in.

XR is planning to escalate protests at Commbank and the other Big Four banks in coming weeks. Its aim is to hold financial organisations to account for continuing to lend billions of dollars to fossil fuel projects.

XR actions will culminate in October with Rebellion 2020 — two weeks of mass disruptive actions to highlight the climate crisis and the need to avert it.

[AJ Tennant is a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion in Sydney.]