15 December 2022
Just over 8% of shareholders voted in favour of a formal proposal calling on the bank to demonstrate how its funding would not be used for new fossil fuel projects at today’s annual general meeting.
Last month, a UN High-level Expert Group confirmed what many experts have been saying for years,
“Non-state actors cannot claim to be net zero while continuing to build or invest in new fossil fuel supply.”
Today, ANZ faced a formal proposal from shareholders asking it to demonstrate how the company’s financing would not be used for the purposes of new or expanded fossil fuel projects.
Chairman Paul O’ Sullivan’s misrepresented the resolution to shareholders in his opening remarks, claiming
“It is clear that those who have lodged this resolution are seeking an immediate withdrawal of financing for companies that continue to have any exposure to fossil fuels.”
Less than a month ago, Aware Super was sent a legal letter from one of its members who raised concerns the fund had failed to understand and properly consider its vote on a similar climate resolution at this year’s Commonwealth Bank annual general meeting. Like ANZ today, Aware had claimed that the resolution called on the bank to cease financing of all fossil fuel companies.
Both Aware and ANZ’s representations are incorrect, as the wording of the resolution clearly stipulated “new or expanded fossil fuels” not all fossil fuels customers. Chairman O’Sullivan was given a chance to correct the record by Market Forces Executive Director Julien Vincent:
Mr O’Sullivan replied he “had no desire to mislead mine or the bank’s part” and finished up saying “he would allow shareholders to form their own view and their own judgement on it”.
Mr. O’Sullivan then twice repeated the same misrepresentation later in the meeting when introducing the resolution. Mr. Vincent again reiterated the difference between “withholding finance that would enable the expansion of the industry and withholding finance to companies that are simply exposed to the industry” and asked for an explanation from Mr. O’Sullivan. The Chairman refused to accept this, insisting ANZ wanted to ensure shareholders were fully informed while at the same time seeming to spread misinformation about the resolution. Watch the exchange below.
It’s unsurprising that ANZ would want to distract from the true request of the resolution given the bank’s position as Australia’s most prolific financier of new and expanded fossil fuels. Since the beginning of 2021, ANZ has participated in or arranged 33 deals worth a total of over $65 billion to the fossil fuel industry. Today, the bank and its leadership were held to account for its continued financing of new coal, oil and gas projects and the companies building them. As an individual lender, ANZ has poured tens of billions of dollars into companies expanding the fossil fuel industry since 2016.
Despite its stated commitments to the Paris Agreement and net zero emissions by 2050, and the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) conclusion that reaching this goal leaves no room for new fossil fuel projects, ANZ publicly stated last month that it would be providing additional finance to its heaviest emitting clients. Some of ANZ’s customers, such as Santos and Woodside are actively undermining the low carbon transition by seeking to build massive new oil and gas projects.
ANZ has finally set new oil and gas sector emissions reductions targets of 26% by 2030 (from a 2020 baseline), after being a laggard in this space for some time. However, ANZ’s lending practices are still far from aligned with the 1.5°C scenario set out under the Paris Agreement, and its leadership failed to address how the bank would make this alignment in future.
Tell ANZ: net-zero by 2050 and the Paris Agreement means no more fossil fuels!
Analysis released in 2021 from Market Forces revealed that between 2016 and 2020, ANZ loaned more than $13.98 billion, including $2.45 billion for new or expanded coal, oil or gas projects. These projects would enable the release of 4.6 billion tonnes of CO2 (equivalent) into the atmosphere, equal to about 9 times Australia’s total 2020 greenhouse gas emissions.
In May 2021, the IEA concluded that reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 means there should be “no new oil and gas fields approved for development … and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required.” Despite this, since 2021 ANZ has been involved in at least 33 more fossil fuel deals, including 18 for companies with expansionary plans and 4 direct project finance deals for new or expanded fossil fuel projects. The scale of ANZ’s lending is extremely concerning, suggesting the bank is even less concerned about climate change than its big four counterparts. Since the IEA Net Zero by 2050 Scenario (NZE) was released, ANZ has signed off on deals for Santos, Viva Energy, Woodside, China Gas, Cooper Energy and Horizon Oil. Most egregiously, the bank provided finance for the Pluto 2 LNG project in March this year, this project will process gas from Woodside’s Scarborough gas field and emit an estimated 1.37 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Meanwhile fossil fuel companies have been attempting to use Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis as justification for developing new fossil fuel projects, but the IEA reinforced its original finding in its October 2022 World Energy Outlook (WEO) by stating:
“No one should imagine that Russia’s invasion can justify a wave of new oil and gas infrastructure in a world that wants to reach net zero emissions by 2050.”International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook, October 2022
ANZ released an updated policy just last month and once again failed to rule out providing finance to companies without transition plans in place, instead allowing these clients until 2025 to develop plans before ANZ will ‘reduce our exposure’. ANZ’s clients like Woodside and Santos want to build massive new oil and gas projects now, and without ruling out finance for companies like these there is no scenario where ANZ can be classified as aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
For these reasons, Market Forces moved ahead and supported a shareholder resolution put to today’s meeting, calling on the bank to reduce its fossil fuel finance, consistent with its net zero by 2050 commitments and stop funding new fossil fuel projects and the companies pursuing them.
Investors managing or owning almost 8.35% of ANZ’s shares – representing over $6 billion of investment – supported the resolution, signaling discontent with the bank’s shortcomings on climate change.
However, this also suggests many investors failed to live up to their own net zero commitments by supporting the resolution. Any investor claiming to commit to net zero by 2050 must realise this means no expansion of the fossil fuel industry, and therefore, back calls for that outcome. Unfortunately, many super funds would have used their members’ money to block this critical climate action.
Free Prior and Informed Consent
Is ANZ actually doing due diligence on human rights?
One of ANZ’s most concerning recent deals is the bank’s co-arrangement of a $1 billion loan to Santos in August 2022. Santos is currently pursuing multiple new oil and gas projects including the Narrabri gas project, the Pikka oil project, and the Barossa gas project.
Santos has been making recent headlines for its hugely controversial Barossa project, located in the waters north of the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. In September 2022, Tiwi Islands traditional owners won a federal court challenge against Santos’ project. The court ruled that Santos had failed to adequately consult Tiwi Islands traditional owners about the project. Santos challenged the ruling, but its appeal was rejected by the Federal Court in December. Despite the ruling and the Munupi people of the Tiwi Islands declaring “Munupi people don’t want any fossil fuel activities off the coast line of the Tiwi Islands”, Santos remains adamant that first gas will be achieved from Barossa in the first half of 2025.
ANZ’s Land Acquisition Position Statement states the bank will not tolerate land acquisitions by customers considered to be improper, including “where the land acquisition process followed is not consistent with the Equator Principles…including the right to free, prior and informed consent where it applies.” In light of this policy, Market Forces Executive Director Julien Vincent pressed the board on whether it knew about these proceedings in June, prior to its loan to Santos.
In response, Chairman Paul O’Sullivan said “I’m pretty sure we would have been”. Santos is also currently looking for a loan for its Darwin LNG extension project, which is required to process gas from the Barossa field. This is particularly concerning given Santos’ aggressive pursuit to move ahead with Barossa even with the express disapproval of traditional owners. When asked if it intends to apply its human rights policy in full when it comes to future lending, Mr. O’Sullivan dodged the question by saying that ANZ has “very high standards around human rights”. Apparently, these standards are low enough to tolerate Santos’ disregard for the principles of FPIC.
ANZ is Australia’s most prolific banking partner of climate- and community-destroying companies
Despite its commitments to the Paris Agreement and net zero by 2050, and in the knowledge that achieving these goals leaves no room for new fossil fuel projects, ANZ has received the dubious honour of being the most active lender to the fossil fuel industry in the last two years.
ANZ still lagging other banks on climate
Overnight, one of the UK’s biggest banks, HSBC announced it will stop financing new oil and gas fields to drive down global emissions after receiving advice from international energy experts.
In its update, HSBC stated that “forecasted global oil and gas demand out to 2050 in a net zero scenario is more than met by existing known fields. Whilst the war in Ukraine will impact on supply choices in the short term, it does not change the overall demand trajectory required to reach net zero by 2050.”
Crucially, HSBC was able to determine the difference between continuing to invest in existing oil and gas projects, whilst refusing finance to new oil and gas fields. This is more than can be said for ANZ, who seemed to repeatedly be unable to differentiate between the two concepts throughout its annual general meeting.
In response, Mr. O’Sullivan referred to the situation in Europe as a warning about what happens when you have to turn off power generation, despite the IEA reaffirming that existing oil and gas supply is sufficient to meet demand out until 2050 in the latest iteration of its NZE scenario, which takes into account the impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global energy demand. The Chairman then said that a ‘responsible bank’ like ANZ should “be willing to lend to companies willing to make that transition, but only on condition that we’re satisfied that they are reducing emissions intensity.”
It seems astounding that ANZ would be satisfied that some of its clients like Woodside and Santos are reducing emissions, when those companies plan to significantly increase oil and gas production this decade. Perhaps what is more concerning is that the bank seems to equate ceasing development of new oil and gas fields with causing energy crises, like the fossil fuel industry has been claiming since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. ANZ’s interpretation of the situation runs contrary to what the IEA recently stated, “No one should imagine that Russia’s invasion can justify a wave of new oil and gas infrastructure in a world that wants to reach net zero emissions by 2050.”
The global push to fight greenwashing has been gaining further momentum in 2022. At COP27, a UN High-level Expert Group slammed corporate greenwashing and weak net zero pledges, declaring “we must have zero tolerance for greenwashing.” Crucially, the UN HLEG declared in its report that “Non-state actors cannot claim to be net zero while continuing to build or invest in new fossil fuel supply.”
This has come around the same time that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Deputy Chair Sarah Court issued a stark warning regarding the penalties companies will face for greenwashing:
“ASIC is currently investigating a number of listed entities, super funds and managed funds in relation to their green credentials claims. Companies are on notice that ASIC is actively monitoring the market for potential greenwashing and will take enforcement action, including Court action, for serious breaches.”
Last year the Federal Court ordered Commonwealth Bank to give a shareholder access to confidential documents so the shareholder could check whether CommBank had breached its own climate policy over its lending to certain oil and gas projects.
And just a few days ago, Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the government is focused on “Confronting and cracking down on greenwashing – ensuring the credibility of sustainability-related financial targets, products and investments – because credibility is everything.”
With the increasing risk for financial institutions around unfounded net zero commitments, ANZ could soon be feeling the heat from legal and regulatory institutions for its greenwashing. Market Forces campaigner Morgan Pickett put these concerns to the board today:
In response, Mr. O’ Sullivan stressed “we will lend to projects in the energy sector where we’re confident that there is a clearly defined plan to reduce carbon emissions intensity.” It’s not clear what kind of information ANZ received on Woodside’s Scarborough-Pluto 2 project or Santos’ Barossa gas project that gave the bank confidence that the projects had a “clearly defined plan to reduce carbon emissions intensity”. Wherever that information came from, it’s at odds with what independent experts have concluded, that Scarborough “represents a bet against the world implementing the Paris Agreement” and that Barossa is “a CO2 emissions factory with an LNG by-product”.