- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #1984
Is there a company that doesn’t claim to support the Paris Agreement on climate change? The agreement was signed in 2015 and since then the world has experienced the five hottest years on record. Drought, unprecedented bush fires, floods, bleaching of coral reefs, loss of biodiversity, and the shattering of historical records tell us that climate change is here, now.
Australia’s Big Four banks – CommBank (CBA), ANZ, NAB and Westpac – are amongst the big corporations that publicly claim to support the Paris Agreement and are committed to zero net emissions by 2050 – a deadline that science now tells us is too late to prevent catastrophic and irreversible changes to the climate.
The CBA’s chairwoman, Catherine Livingstone, is on record as saying: “Our philosophy overall is to support the transition [to zero net emissions], but to make it very science-based and data-based.” She was responding to pressure from Market Forces.
Market Forces is a research and campaigning group that believes that “the banks, superannuation funds and governments that have custody of our money should use it to protect not damage our environment.”
The actions of the Big Four tell another story.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has made it clear that there is no room for new or expanded coal, oil, and gas projects if the minimum 2050 target of net-zero emissions is to be met. Yet the Big Four continue to dish out loans to the coal, oil, and gas industry contrary to their climate change commitments. The big fossil fuel producers also claim to support the Paris Agreement.
Major polluters including BHP, Woodside Petroleum, Santos, Mineral Resources, New Hope Corporation, Origin, and AGL continue to expand their production of fossil fuels. At the same time, they claim to be committed to the Paris Agreement.
Santos, for example, one of the largest offenders with plans for expansion, makes such a claim in its 2020 Annual Report: “A proudly Australian company, Santos is a leading supplier of natural gas, a fuel for the future, providing clean energy to improve the lives of people in Australia and Asia.
“Santos is already Australia’s biggest domestic gas supplier, a leading Asia-Pacific LNG supplier and aims to be a world-leading clean fuels company, achieving net zero emissions by 2040.”
“Santos will grow its clean fuels capability as customer demand evolves for zero-emissions LNG, hydrogen and other products through carbon capture and storage, nature-based offsets, energy efficiency and use of renewables in its operations.”
Natural gas is a fossil fuel. It is not a source of clean energy. To expand production now before large-scale carbon capture and storage are proven means years at the very best of ongoing dirty emissions.
It is not enough to have a target for 2050 if in the intervening years production is boosted. The recent report by the UN International Panel on Climate Change warned that what happens in the next ten years is critical. Expansion of production and opening-up of new sources requires financing and that does not appear to be in short supply for greenhouse gas emitters.
Of the Big Four banks, ANZ is the worst offender having leant almost $14 billion to fossil fuels globally in the past five years. The NAB leant $9.5 billion and Westpac $6.7 billion in the same period. The Big Four have loaned more than $44 billion in the past five years fuelling the emission of more greenhouse gases.
If Australian fossil fuel companies get the go-ahead with their present plans, they would facilitate emissions equivalent to 146 times Australia’s annual carbon footprint. These and other companies including Whitehaven and New Hope are pursuing more than 115 new or expansionary projects. (Market Forces)
There are however some smaller banks that do not invest in the fossil fuel industry.*
ME Bank told Market Forces: “ME does not have any investments in the mining industry, including the coal and gas export industries and does not intend to invest in these industries in the future.” (ME Bank was owned by the industry superannuation funds but was recently purchased by the Bank of Queensland which does invest in the fossil fuel sector.)
The Australian Mutual Bank goes further: “Australian Mutual Bank does not have any direct investments in the fossil fuel industry. Nor are there direct investments in gambling, armaments, persistent chemicals, or animal testing. Australian Mutual Bank’s banking services are directed to improving the economic and social well-being of members as opposed to corporate speculative gain.”
The Credit Union SA is a bank in the traditional sense: “The Credit Union primarily invests funds received from members deposits in retail loans to members. The remaining funds are primarily held in cash and liquid investments with other financial institutions to meet minimum liquidity compliance requirements under the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA). No funds are directly invested by the Credit Union in the fossil fuel industry.”
It is evident that the message is getting through to many of the smaller financial institutions but not the Big Four.
Ironically major insurance companies are still investing in fossil fuel companies, despite massive payouts due to the impacts of climate change. At present they recoup the additional costs by raising premiums for policy holders. Insurance is already beyond the reach of many but there is coming a time where insurance will become even more unaffordable.
They support fossil fuel companies by insuring their operations and through share portfolios. The massive returns on investments in this industry dictates their investments. QBW, IAG (NRMA, RACV, CGU, SGIO), and Suncorp (AAMI, GIO, APIA, Just Car) are winding back their coverage.
SUPER FUNDS FALLING BEHIND
Market Forces obtained legal advice on climate change and investment by superannuation funds. Some of the critical findings outlined in the legal opinion are:
- Super funds must take a thorough approach to understanding the financial risks posed by climate change, including obtaining regular expert advice
- Where these risks are too great for a particular investment, funds must consider divestment – that is, shifting funds to less risky investments
- Multiple studies have confirmed that failing to limit global warming in line with the Paris climate goals would have serious negative financial impacts across the economy broadly, and therefore super funds’ entire portfolios.
A number of industry funds have pursued ethical policies when investing members’ funds, including considerations of climate change. Very few exclude any investment in fossil fuels across all products. Australian Ethical, Future Super, Cruelty-Free Super and Verve Super products do. Some larger funds offer a fossil fuel free option, but this accounts for just a fraction of their funds under management.
Of the fifteen largest super funds in the country, ten have taken no action to divest from or exclude any fossil fuel companies: Colonial First State, QSuper, MLC, BT Super, Sunsuper, AMP, Rest, Cbus and Hostplus. Sunsuper, Cbus and Rest have set targets to reduce portfolio emissions to net-zero by 2050, with Cbus also targeting a forty-five per cent reduction by 2030.
Rest Super was successfully sued by a member for failing to consider climate change. It should serve as a warning to other superannuation funds.
One of the aims of the Coalition’s Your Future, Your Super Bill passed in June 2021 is to prevent superannuation funds from making ethical considerations such as not investing in fossil fuels. The bill by requires directors to exercise their powers “in the best financial interests” of members.
In 2018-19, an election year, fossil fuel companies donated just under $1.9 million to the Liberal, National and Labor Parties. This is the amount reported to the Australian Electoral Commission. As the ABC TV series, Big Deal, revealed the amount could be considerably more as sixty-five per cent of the Liberal Party’s and fifty-five per cent of Labor’s donations were from private undisclosed sources. With such whopping donations, it is hardly a surprise that the two major parties are in the pocket of the big miners.
INVEST GREEN AND CLEAN
Climate change puts humanity at risk. There is no time to waste and anything less than urgent action to execute a just transition to net-zero emissions is unacceptable. Banks, insurance companies and superannuation funds have control over literally trillions of dollars in investments.
They have the power to direct future investments and savings of workers. They have the power to control loans to corporations. People have power too. People’s power works. The Big Four banks are not lending to Adani.
Contact any financial institutions you have savings in or loans with. Ask them whether they invest in dirty fossil fuels, what action they are taking to divest from these companies. The sooner divestment occurs, the safer we will all be.