Tangible climate change action through divestment


In 2016, the national Divestment Day in Australia was on 7 October, and action took place in Geelong as well, with customers of the four big banks closing their bank accounts, moving over to banks which are not closely knitted together with the fossil fuel industry.

Claire Danaher explains why she and her son participated in this year’s Divestment Day and closed their accounts with NAB. See more photos on Facebook

Australia’s big four banks have made a mockery of their ‘two degree’ commitments, pouring $5.6 billion into the fossil fuel sector since the December 2015 Paris climate change agreement. If you bank with NAB, Westpac, Commonwealth or ANZ, then it’s time to put your bank on notice.

Market Forces’ latest research shows the four banks have failed to come anywhere close to meeting their commitments to help hold global warming to less than two degrees, with each of ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac failing to meet even the most basic criteria: ending finance for projects that expand the fossil fuel industry.

Since their commitments on two degrees last year, for every $1 invested in renewables, Westpac has loaned $11.60 to fossil fuels, ANZ $10.10 and Commonwealth Bank $4.25.

The banks policies and actions need to quickly fall into line with their two degree commitments – and it looks like we, their customers, will once again have to remind them that this is important to us.

Caroline Danaher
Caroline Danaher speaking at Geelong Green Drinks on 28 September 2016

A day of action
Market Forces is calling on customers of the big four banks to join on 7 October to send a message loud and clear that while they fail to live up to their climate change commitments, while they continue to finance fossil fuels to the tune of billions of dollars each year, their customers will take their money elsewhere.

To date, customers worth over $500 million in savings alone have put their bank “on notice”, warning that unless the banks stop lending to fossil fuels, customers will take their business elsewhere. It’s time we turn that risk into a reality.

Close to ten per cent of the Australian population lives in a municipality which has divested – which generally means means: moved over to a bank which doesn’t invest in fossil fuel projects


Divestment: an unstoppable torrent
2016 is the year where climate change commitments turn into concrete action, shifting finance out of fossil fuels. Divestment out of coal, oil and gas has gone from a steady stream to become an unstoppable torrent, driven by people in their thousands taking action to hold governments and financial institutions accountable.

The divestment movement is fuelled by a growing awareness of how personal finances are exposed to environmentally damaging projects through the banks, super funds and share portfolios that they are invested with. Quite simply, ‘divestment’ is the opposite of investment – the action of removing money that has been invested somewhere.

You can use resources like Market Forces’ bank comparison table and Super Switch to find out if your savings are being invested in dirty fossil fuels and take action to align your money with your values.

Divestment has taken on great significance as a global movement as more and more individuals and institutions take action to ensure that their money is not being used to fund projects and industries that they don’t agree with.

“Divestment serves to delegitimise the business models of companies that are using investors’ money to search for yet more coal, oil and gas that can’t safely be burned. It is a small but crucial step in the economic transition away from a global economy run on fossil fuels.”
~ Alan RusbridgerThe Guardian


Double-edged sword
Divestment is a major step towards cutting your ties with climate wrecking fossil fuels and therefore reducing your carbon footprint. It sits alongside moves such as switching to a renewable energy provider and cutting gas use as one of the most effective ways to reduce your personal carbon footprint.

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“Divestment is a double-edged sword,” says Caroline Danaher, who helps organise the Divestment Day campaign in Geelong on 7 October. “Because at the same time as we are removing finance from the fossil fuel sector, we also raise awareness about the need to shift away from our current reliance on the industry. That is what the Divestment Day is all about.”

Obviously the economic impact of one person removing their savings from a bank or switching super funds isn’t going to cripple the fossil fuel industry, but by taking a stand, voting with their money and publicising their actions, those who divest can make a real and measurable impact.

Triggers stigmatisation process
A 2013 report by Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment looked into the impact of divestment, and in particular the effects of this current campaign. The report states, “The outcome of the stigmatisation process, which the fossil fuel divestment campaign has now triggered, poses the most far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies and the vast energy value chain. Any direct impacts pale in comparison.”

In the past, successful divestment campaigns have helped bring about change on issues such as tobacco advertising and South African apartheid. This current movement has huge potential, having been labeled “one of the fastest moving debates I’ve seen in my 30 years in markets” by FTSE managing director Kevin Bourne.

Simply being pragmatic
As evidenced by the many different divestment stories shared at Market Forces, as well as those from around the world, there is a wide range of individual motivations behind divestment actions.

The recognition of the devastating impact on fossil fuels use on climate change is a major inspiration. However, there are also many more localised and specific environmental problems caused – and threats posed – by companies within the fossil fuel industry.

Another motivation for divestment actions is the growing concern over the ongoing financial viability of the fossil fuel industry.

The issue of unburnable carbon and the resulting danger of fossil fuel companies being left with stranded assets has been raised by many financial experts, including those from Deutsche Bank, The Bank of England and even president of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim, who has said, “Every company, investor and bank that screens new and existing investments for climate risk is simply being pragmatic.”

Largest divestment action
The single largest divestment action to date has been the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund’s decision to ditch its holdings in companies that derive more than 30 per cent of their business or revenue from coal. Valued at over $1 trillion the fund is largest of its kind in the world and its decision to divest was largely brought about by sustained community pressure.

As reported by GoFossilFree.org, some other great examples of institutional divestment include the Rockerfeller Brothers Fund, more than 20 American universities and colleges, and also the City of Oslo, which has pledged to divest US$7 million worth of pension fund investments in coal.

More locally, The Uniting Church in Australia Assembly and the City of Moreland are amongst those leading the divestment charge, with other local councils, churches and educational institutions quickly following suit.

$70 billion to fossil projects
Since their pre-Paris announcements, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac have collectively loaned $5.6 billion to fossil fuel projects and companies around the world.

The largest single lender is Commonwealth Bank at $2.2 billion, followed by $2.1 billion from ANZ, $900 million from Westpac and $400 million from NAB. This takes total lending to fossil fuels by the big four banks to over $70 billion since 2008.

Deals uncovered by Market Forces’ research include NAB facilitating an intercompany loan between beleaguered coal miner Peabody and their Australian subsidiary, which the company is claiming will enable the expansion of their Wambo coal mine in the Hunter Valley.

Out of step with global trends
In April this year, ANZ arranged a loan to InterOil to enable them to develop “one of Asia’s largest undeveloped gas fields, Elk-Antelope”. Both ANZ and Westpac contributed to the deal.

And despite the environmental disaster caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, Commonwealth Bank saw fit to help finance the Heidelberg deep water drilling project, 1,620 metres below sea level around 225 kilometres off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

The new lending figures also overwhelm the $1.5 billion invested in renewable energy since the banks’ two degree announcements, with only NAB having a positive ration of clean to dirty energy finance in that time.

This is completely out of step with global trends, with clean energy attracting twice as much finance as fossil fuels around the world in 2015.


This article is based on material and research from Market Forces


Divestment Day in Geelong

Come to Divestment Day in Geelong on Friday 7 October.
Geelong banks need to feel the heat and know we mean business.
We meet at Johnstone Park, corner of Gheringhap Street and Malop Street for a briefing at 12pm before heading for the big four banks to explain our concerns.

NB: In Geelong the campaign takes place on 7 October, because one bank is closed on the Saturday. In other cities, the events take place on Saturday 8 October. We hope you will support the campaign event in your local community!

» See the event page on Facebook – and sign up if you can come!



Tell your bank to ditch fossil fuels!

Australian Youth Climate Coalition has started a petition calling on the big banks to keep warming at a safe level by ditching funding for fossil fuel projects like Adani’s.

“Last week, the AFR reported that Adani’s dangerous mega coal mine project was back in action [1]. Coal company Glencore are selling back their share of the Abbot Point coal port to Adani and Adani have announced they’re planning a smaller (still biggest in the country), slow ramp up of their mine to minimise costs and get things happening.

With fresh reports this week from scientists that much of the beautiful coral remains white and some fish species seem to have disappeared we know our fragile Great Barrier Reef cannot take any more pressure from Adani’s climate fuelling coal projects [2].

As Adani ramp up, so do we, every avenue they try, we block. Adani are trying to push ahead to secure financing, but we will not let them past us. We know these projects are unbankable and completely unfeasible. It’s time to remind our banks they know this too [3].

Sign this petition calling on the big banks to keep warming at a safe level by ditching funding for fossil fuel projects like Adani’s: www.putourfuturefirst.org.au/gameon

Last year 14 banks ruled out funding for Adani’s projects because customers like us used our customer power and people power to stand up to the banks and show them funding fossil fuel projects isn’t cool. In Australia only NAB has officially ruled out their involvement with Adani, Commonwealth Bank cancelled their existing contracts with Adani and we’re yet to hear from Westpac and ANZ despite them agreeing to limit warming to a safe level.

We all know Adani’s mega coal mine project is a climate disaster and we don’t need it when we’re already facing the effects of climate change. As customers of the big banks we have a huge role to play in making sure Adani’s projects just don’t go ahead – we won’t let them use our money.

Over the next few months we’re going to be ramping up the pressure on the banks in the lead up to their big annual shareholder meetings with media stunts, branch visits, social media ads and staff engagement. Together we’ll hold them accountable to their commitments to keep our future safe.

Adani want to start construction within the year, but they can’t do it without any money. Are you in?

Kirsty for the AYCC team

[1] » Financial Review:
Adani prepares for an end to lawfare with a smaller, cheaper Carmichael (Paid subscription access only)

[2] » ABC – 20 September 2016:
Great Barrier Reef coral dead, damaged from bleaching event, survey finds

[3] » The Guardian – 22 september 2016:
Galilee basin coal must be left in ground as a ‘priority’ – new report

Switching banks: nearly half of all Australians consider moving over climate change

Poll findings released as prominent Australians call on big four to withdraw backing for fossil fuel industry

About half of all Australians would be likely to switch banks if they found out their bank was lending money to projects that contribute to climate change, according to polling commissioned by the financial activist group Market Forces.

The findings came as more than 100 prominent Australian individuals and organisations signed a letter demanding that the big four banks stop supporting projects that expand the fossil fuel industry. Among the signatories are JM Coetzee, Charlotte Wood, James Bradley, Missy Higgins, Peter Singer and Jack Mundey, as well as unions, religious orders and conservation groups.

» See the open letter and add your name here:

» The Guardian – 15 September 2016:
Switching banks: nearly half of all Australians would consider move over climate change
Poll findings released as prominent Australians call on big four to withdraw backing for fossil fuel industry

» Market Forces: Poll reveals high expectations for banks to avoid fossil fuels

» ABC – 7 September 2016:
Religious groups lead the world on fossil fuel divestment

Guests: Thea Ormerod, President, The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change – Gillian Reffell, Member, Sydney Buddhist Centre – Shubavuha, Management committee member, Sydney Buddhist Centre

» Download audio file