16 December 2020
Following the release of a lacklustre update to its climate policy in October, today’s ANZ annual general meeting (AGM) saw the bank’s board held to account for the gap between rhetoric and action on climate change.
However, perhaps the bank wasn’t as prepared to bear the weight of responsibility for the impacts its fossil fuel customers have on communities and those fighting the climate crisis.
ANZ’s updated climate policy, released in October, was a step forward as it restricted finance to thermal coal and pledged to exit the sector by 2030. Throughout the meeting, the bank emphasised this was necessary to manage risk and act in the best long term interest of shareholders, saying there’s a major transition underway to a low carbon economy.
However, the bank’s position remains woefully inconsistent with the Paris Agreement on a number of fronts (read on to find how). As a result, Market Forces moved ahead with a shareholder resolution pushing ANZ to align its policies with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement. An address from our banks campaigner Jack Bertolus was read aloud at the AGM, encouraging shareholders to vote in favour:
The resolution achieved a 28.9% vote in favour, representing almost $19 billion dollars worth of support from investors, and almost doubling the 14.9% support received by a similar resolution coordinated by Market Forces and lodged with ANZ last year.
ANZ held accountable for community and climate impacts
Disappointingly, ANZ appeared to suppress an unknown number of shareholder questions, declaring on a number of occasions that it had received multiple questions on a particular topic and that it would only consider some of them.
Still, shareholders took the bank to task over its funding for companies impacting not only the climate but their livelihoods and local communities.
Just last month, ANZ loaned US$50 million to dirty gas company Santos, whose highly opposed Narrabri Gas Project should be blocked on climate grounds according to the former chief scientist.
As part of the project’s planning process, scientists and engineers warned the NSW Independent Planning Commission of serious risks to water.
“The area provides recharge for Australia’s most important aquifer system – the Great Artesian Basin and is close to the vitally important Namoi Alluvium. The risks of groundwater and surface contamination and drawdown are real.”Associate Professor Matthew Currell, School of Engineering, RMIT
Shareholder Anne Kennedy, president of the Artesian Bore Water Users Association, raised concerns shared by her community about the risks to water and asked why ANZ continues to fund companies like Santos.
Anne’s question was bundled together with a question from attendee Anusha, with ANZ disregarding other questions “regarding fossil fuel projects”.
ANZ participated in amending and extending $1.17 billion of loans for Origin Energy in July. Anusha from GetUp! asked whether ANZ will continue funding Origin given its plans to frack the Beetaloo basin for climate-wrecking gas, citing concerns around impacts to groundwater and cultural heritage.
Chairman Paul O’Sullivan failed to address the concerns raised, instead opting to speak generally about how the bank determines whether or not to fund a customer. As part of this, O’Sullivan told shareholders that ANZ asks its customers, the likes of Santos, what the impact of their projects will be on communities. Perhaps not the most unbiased approach?
O’Sullivan also told shareholders ANZ would determine what consultation has been undertaken with the community on these issues before moving forward. Given that 23,000 submissions were made on the Narrabri Gas Project, 98% of which opposed it, it’s unclear how this was taken into consideration when deciding to continue backing Santos.
ANZ also monitors the execution of its customer’s projects to ensure they’re “executed in a responsible and compliant way”. Given Whitehaven Coal recently pleaded guilty to 19 charges brought by the NSW Resources Regulator, perhaps ANZ made good on this commitment when it exited Whitehaven’s lending syndicate earlier this year.
In October 2019, ANZ committed US$100 million of finance to Australia’s largest producer of climate-wrecking gas Woodside Energy. The funds created headroom for its planned expenditure on projects such as the expansion of Pluto LNG, part of Woodside’s massive ‘Burrup Hub’ suite of projects off the coast of Western Australia.
According to Woodside’s own figures, total lifetime emissions from Burrup Hub projects could be up to 6.88 Gt CO2-e, nearly 13 times Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.
Rachel of Clean State, a project of the Conservation Council of Western Australia (CCWA), asked how ANZ is comfortable providing this sort of funding given its commitment to the Paris Agreement.
Expansion of the fossil fuel industry
Rachel’s question was bundled together with a question from our banks campaigner Jack Bertolus, with ANZ labeling these as questions related to “climate targets”. All other questions the bank deemed too closely related to this topic were disregarded.
Given that, in August, 25 leading scientists at Australian universities wrote that achieving the Paris Agreement means “the time has passed for any new fossil fuel infrastructure, including the proposed expansion of the gas industry in Australia”, Jack asked why ANZ still hasn’t ruled out funding the expansion of the fossil fuel industry.
Chairman Paul O’Sullivan told shareholders these questions are representative of those he and the ANZ executive team receive when talking to shareholders. Given Mr. O’Sullivan’s experience answering these questions, it was somewhat surprising that rather than addressing each question in turn, he simply provided one answer which failed to properly address either question.
Mr. O’Sullivan ignored the issues raised and simply recounted ANZ’s position on funding fossil fuels, leaving shareholders confused about why ANZ continues funding expansion of the fossil fuel industry despite its commitment to the Paris Agreement.
Lack of movement on oil and gas
ANZ’s recent climate policy update failed to align its oil and gas strategy with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, with no targets to reduce exposure to the sector and the bank remaining wide open to funding projects and companies expanding the oil and gas industry.
NAB plans to complete a review of its oil and gas policy by September next year. As such, a shareholder asked whether and when ANZ intends to update its approach to oil and gas.
O’Sullivan failed to commit to updating the bank’s approach, instead telling shareholders that ANZ’s policy is not “not static” and is reviewed on an “ongoing basis”. However, given the significant vote in favour of the shareholder resolution calling for ANZ to set targets to reduce exposure to oil and gas, ANZ should seriously reconsider its position.
ANZ clarifies approach amid proposed parliamentary inquiry
Oddly, O’Sullivan instead used the shareholder’s oil and gas question as an opportunity to defend the bank’s recent policy shift restricting finance for thermal coal. This comes amidst proposals by federal government ministers for a parliamentary inquiry into decisions by banks and insurers to restrict funding for fossil fuels.
“You as the owners of the bank would not want us to put the bank in a position where we’re over-represented with customers who are not planning to make that transition and therefore might be overexposed to measures such as a carbon tax or indeed to a consumer response because they’ve chosen not to make that transition. So for us it’s a balance of risk and opportunity. We are committed to supporting the transition to a low carbon economy.”Paul O’Sullivan, Chairman, ANZ
You can find the full encounter in the video below:
Fossil fuels vs renewables
One shareholder noted that ANZ reports it is 12 times as exposed to fossil fuels ($19 billion) when compared to renewable energy ($1.5 billion), and that NAB reports ANZ has loaned half as much to renewable energy when compared to NAB.
Asked by a shareholder when ANZ will leave behind polluting industries and catch up to its peers, O’Sullivan didn’t dispute the figures, but instead pointed to the bank’s favourable ranking in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI).
This reflects quite poorly on the DJSI, demonstrating that its ranking system allows companies far more heavily invested in fossil fuels compared to renewable energy, as well as those funding expansion of the fossil fuel industry, to rise through its ranks.
Sustainable solutions target
The question above was combined with another about ANZ’s ‘sustainable solutions’ target. These questions were deemed to be related to “climate targets”. Any other questions ANZ deemed too similar to these were discarded.
Page 44 of ANZ’s 2020 ESG Supplement says the bank has funded and facilitated $9.08 billion across 89 transactions for ‘sustainable solutions’ since October 2019, and that it aims for this to increase this to $50 billion by 2025. ANZ’s report shows that 15 of the 89 transactions were for renewable energy but doesn’t disclose the dollar value of those transactions.
Asked how much of the $9.08 billion went to renewables, Chairman Paul O’Sullivan didn’t say, instead responding that ANZ can’t publish the details of every transaction. Shareholders were left perplexed by this response, given that ANZ was asked for the aggregated lending to renewable energy across 15 transactions, which does not require publication of details for even a single transaction (let alone the details of every transaction as suggested by the Chairman).
Asked how much of the $50 billion target is earmarked for renewables, O’Sullivan ignored the question and instead told shareholders ANZ might fund or facilitate a different amount and that this might exceed $50 billion. Shareholders were again left confused and in the dark about how much money ANZ would be funding and facilitating for renewable energy.