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Australia’s major banks keep on fueling the climate crisis

7 March 2020

7 March 2020

The latest data on bank lending to fossil fuels over the last four years shows that Australia’s major banks continue to undermine the Paris Agreement and global action on the climate crisis by lending to dirty fossil fuels.

Westpac, Commbank, ANZ and NAB collectively poured a massive $35.4 billion into coal, oil and gas between 2016-19, including $7.1 billion into projects that expand the fossil fuel industry, increasing carbon emissions, just as humanity needs to urgently reduce them.

Year on year trends show that fossil fuel lending in 2019 has fallen slightly since the record-highs of 2018. Lending to coal is at its lowest level in the last four years, while still significant at almost $1b. The four banks loaned a massive $6.6b to oil and gas in 2019, including several companies looking to open up new unconventional gas fields in NSW and the Northern Territory (see below).

These figures demonstrate that despite announcing their support for the Paris Agreement, the lending practices of all four major banks tell a different story. Not one of them takes global warming seriously enough to stop contributing to the crisis fueling bushfires, floods, storms and drought all over the world.


Whitehaven Coal funded to expand thermal coal mining

From 2016-2019, ANZ, NAB and Westpac have loaned a total $425 million to pure-play coal miner Whitehaven Coal. The funding is broken up as follows:

  • ANZ, $175m
  • NAB, $158m
  • Westpac, $92m

This does not include loans to Whitehaven that NAB and Westpac made just weeks ago, in early 2020.

Whitehaven Coal’s expansion plans rely on the failure of the Paris Agreement and are based on scenarios which result in a civilisation-ending 4 degrees of warming. Whitehaven, which destroyed a large part of the Leard State Forest to build the Maules Creek coal mine, is currently working to build a new open cut coal mine called the Vickery Extension Project. As this new mine will produce both thermal and coking coal, it’s clear that NAB’s 2017 policy to “no longer finance new thermal coal mining projects” is largely meaningless.

NAB found to be ignoring it’s ‘no new thermal coal mines’ policy

Another example of NAB ignoring its own policy on new thermal coal mines is its repeated backing of the expansion of Coronado Global Resources’ Curragh coal mine. In October 2018 NAB co-financed a $720 million deal backing Coronado Global Resources despite the company extending its thermal coal supply agreement with the Stanwell power station in central Queensland from 2028 to 2038, which was “expected to materially extend mine life until around 2038”, according to Coronado. Further, in September 2019 NAB committed to co-finance an additional US$200 million to fund the expansion of Curragh.

Funding gas expansion and fracking

Woodside, Origin Energy and Santos all have plans to massively expand the production of dirty gas. Origin Energy and Santos are both seeking to develop unconventional gas fields in northern Australia and NSW, which will include the dangerous “fracking” technique of gas extraction. Both are facing fierce opposition from traditional owners and farmers due to the high levels of pollution generated.

Woodside is a major player in the Burrup Hub development, which according to its website “could process more gas than the entire volume extracted from the North West Shelf since startup in 1984”.

All three of these companies are undertaking activities which put them out of line with keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees and yet all three have received loans from Australia’s major banks since 2016 to the tune of:

  • Commbank, $1.1b
  • ANZ, $867m
  • Westpac, $548m
  • NAB, $315m

CommBank breaching new policy

In August 2019, Commbank adopted a policy of “only providing banking and financing activity to new oil, gas or metallurgical coal mining projects if they are in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement”. Unfortunately, Commbank is showing it doesn’t take its own policies seriously, having apparently contravened its new policy only one month after it was announced, by financing a new gas pipeline in the USA, an issue which the Chairman refused to properly address at its 2019 annual general meeting. It has since also funded 7 new LNG vessels in December 2019, in another apparent contravention of its own policy.

Links to a company accused of corrupt payments

Horizon Oil, an ASX listed company, is currently being investigated for alleged corrupt payments in Papua New Guinea. These payments are alleged to have happened in 2011.

On 5 November 2018, Horizon Oil entered into a new $132 million senior debt facility with ANZ, Westpac and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) for the repayment of existing debt. The contribution from the two Australian banks were:

  • ANZ, $57m
  • Westpac, $32m

The facts above present damning evidence that Australia’s major banks continue to irresponsibly fuel the climate crisis and all the impacts that come with it. In addition to this, both NAB and Commbank seem to be acting in contravention of their own policies regarding coal and gas lending respectively.