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Commonwealth Bank

Still backing fossil fuel expansion

$15.8 billion

Loaned to dirty fossil fuels globally since 2016

Commonwealth Bank is Australia’s second biggest funder of dirty fossil fuels, providing a total of $15.8 billion to the coal, oil and gas industries since the Paris Agreement was signed.

But unlike the other big four Australian banks, the trend is heading in the right direction for CommBank. Its fossil fuel lending has declined each year since 2019, and in 2022 CommBank lent by far the least of the big four banks, at $267 million.

While the trend is in the right direction, has financed climate wrecking fossil fuel developers including Glencore, Santos and Beach Energy between the 2021-2022 period. CommBank needs to close the loopholes in its policy to rule out any finance to projects and companies expanding the scale of the coal, oil and gas sectors.

Last updated: March 2024

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Tell CommBank that its Paris Agreement pledge means no new fossil fuels!

Public pressure is working

After spending years as a climate laggard, pressure from customers, shareholders and the wider community has helped drive improvements at CommBank. CommBank, the biggest lender to fossil fuels between 2016-2020, comfortably loaned the least of the big four Australian banks in 2022.

In August 2023, CommBank announced a host of fossil fuel finance restrictions that brought Australia’s biggest bank closer to alignment with its commitments to the goals of the Paris agreement and net zero emissions by 2050.

CommBank has committed to not providing project finance for any new or expanded thermal coal mines, coal-fired power generation facilities, new and expanded oil and gas fields, and pipelines that service those field expansions. On corporate finance, CommBank has committed to not funding any company expanding coal-fired power generation.

CommBank has also said it will not fund any oil and gas producing (>15% of revenue), metallurgical coal mining (>15% of revenue), or coal-fired power generation (>25% of electricity from coal) company from 2025 that does not have an independently verified plan to cut all emissions – in line with the Paris Agreement’s ‘well-below 2°C’ upper warming limit.

However, this is a bank that historically has been one of Australia’s worst when it comes to supporting fossil fuels. If CommBank wants to be trusted on climate, then it needs to categorically rule out any further finance to new and expanded fossil fuel projects and the companies developing them.

CommBank’s current policy settings are still completely inadequate for a bank ‘committed’ to the goals of the Paris Agreement and net-zero emissions by 2050.

CommBank has left itself until 2025 to fund its climate-wrecking clients before it will require them to have a credible plan to reduce emissions. Whilst we’d like to believe that CommBank will do the right thing and deny funding to fossil fuel clients without credible transition plans before then, it’s hard to trust a bank with a history of pouring billions into fossil fuel expansion.

See case studies below for more details.

Fossil fuel funding since Paris

The chart shown right shows Commonwealth Bank’s year-on-year lending to different fossil fuel sectors since January 2016. The charts shown below include lending to expansion projects and lending to companies with fossil fuel expansion plans. 

We have included CommBank’s own reported exposures to fossil fuels as a further demonstration of the bank’s trends.

The chart shown right shows CommBank has loaned a total of $15.8 billion to fossil fuels since 2016, this includes:

The chart shown right shows CommBank has loaned $15.8 billion to fossil fuels since 2016. $15.5 billion of this funding came between 2016 and 2021, with 2022 being the lowest rate of lending CommBank has recorded thus far at $267 million. Since 2016, CommBank has loaned: 

  • $2.1 billion to coal,
  • $6.1 billion to gas (exc. LNG)
  • $3 billion to LNG
  • $4.6 billion to oil

 

Funding for new fossil fuel projects

 

Since 2016 CommBank has loaned $3.1 billion to new fossil fuel projects, including:

  • $928 million to new gas projects (exc. LNG)
  • $1.2 billion to new LNG projects
  • $919 million to new oil projects

In total, these projects would result in 5.8 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent.

All of these deals occurred in the five years following the Paris Agreement. CommBank provided finance for 14 new or expanded fossil fuel projects between 2016 and 2020:

 

  • Sabine Pass LNG Terminal (1,635 MtCO2-e)
  • Permian Highway Pipeline (1,018 MtCO2-e)
  • John Sverdrup offshore oil field (966 MtCO2-e)
  • Corpus Christi LNG (775 MtCO2-e)
  • Midship Pipeline (698 MtCO2-e)
  • Barossa gas project (401 MtCO2-e)
  • Lackawanna gas project (70 MtCO2-e)
  • Cambo oil field (66 MtCO2-e)
  • AES Corp gas power portfolio – 1,300MW (61 MtCO2-e)
  • CPV Fairview gas power facility – 1,050MW (50 MtCO2-e)
  • Westmoreland gas power plant  – 925MW (44 MtCO2-e)
  • Tolmount gas field (28 MtCO2-e)
  • Tipton West gas processing facility (14MtCO2-e)
  • Tanami gas pipeline (5 MtCO2-e)

Funding for companies with expansion plans

Since 2016 CommBank has loaned $5.3 billion to companies with fossil fuel expansion plans through ‘corporate finance’ debt facilities.

See case studies below for more details on what CommBank is funding. 

 

 

 

Commbank’s clients – case studies

Santos

After CommBank’s policy was published in 2021, CommBank went ahead and re-financed a loan for Santos in August 2022 that was related to the cultural heritage destroying, climate-wrecking Barossa gas project.

This loan in particular was mired in controversy due to the appalling fact that it occurred whilst the Barossa gas project was being disputed by Tiwi Islands Traditional Owners. Read all about this loan.

Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is a principle protected by international human rights standards that states ‘all peoples have the right to self-determination.’ According to its 2021 Environmental and Social Framework CommBank says it supports FPIC for “applicable project finance.”

Given this commitment and CommBank’s participation in a loan that violates this commitment, the bank received a formal human rights complaint from Traditional Owners in April 2023. The complaint demands that CommBank withdraw from its current loan to Santos and to not finance the associated Darwin LNG project, which would process Barossa gas.

CommBank has a prolific history of funding Santos’ dirty and destructive business plans. Of the big four banks, CommBank has lent the most to Santos since 2016, more than a whopping $1 billion.

It’s still not clear how CommBank could have assessed the environmental, social and economic impacts of Santos’ proposed projects, including Barossa, to be in line with the Paris Agreement or CommBank’s human rights policies. That’s why it’s crucial CommBank changes its policy to rule out financing destructive companies like Santos.

Glencore

In March 2021, CommBank took part in a giant $16.7 billion loan to Australia’s biggest coal-miner, Glencore.

Glencore currently operates 17 coal mines across New South Wales and Queensland, and has two coal mine extensions coal mines currently under assessment – the Glendell continuation, and the Hunter Valley Operations extension, which would see coal mines operating until 2050 – well past any Paris-aligned scenario.

CommBank will require oil and/or gas producing, metallurgical coal mining, and coal-fired power generation clients to have published climate change transition plans by 2025 in order to receive corporate or trade finance or bond facilitation. A notable gap in the list of fossil fuel clients CommBank will require transition plan from is thermal coal mining companies.

While the bank has committed to exiting thermal coal completely by 2030, its policy doesn’t require companies in this sector to have transition plans in place by 2025 to keep receiving finance. This could allow six more years of continued finance to thermal coal companies misaligned with global climate goals.

As Glencore is pursuing coal mine extensions, there is a clear risk that CommBank’s current policy settings could allow it to finance coal expansion until the end of this decade. What CommBank finances now is critical, because money loaned today can enable the construction of coal mines that operate past 2050, even if CommBank is completely out of the thermal coal sector by 2030.

Only having a policy that restricts ‘project finance’ for new coal mines is also inadequate. A report by Global Energy Monitor released in October 2022 found that almost 80% of the financial pipeline for new coal projects is coming from ‘general corporate finance’, not dedicated project finance.

CommBank must close this obvious loophole and deny finance to companies with plans to develop new or expanded coal mines or extend the life of existing mines. Otherwise, CommBank risks providing finance to projects that condemn us to climate catastrophe.

Cheniere Energy

Cheniere Energy proudly claims it is the largest producer of liquefied natural gas in the United States and the second largest LNG operator in the world. Because of its massive gas expansion plans, Cheniere is amongst the top 190 companies expanding coal, oil and gas in the world, also known as the ‘Climate Wreckers Index’. 

CommBank has a history of supporting Cheniere Energy since the Paris Agreement. On 22 May 2018 CommBank loaned a whopping $234.8 million to one of Cheniere’s new projects, Corpus Christi, a massive new liquefied gas (LNG) facility in Texas. Market Forces estimates the Corpus Christi LNG project, which started operation in November 2018, will result in 775MtCO2-e over its lifetime.  

In February and September 2021, CommBank was again involved in arranging finance for Cheniere when it took part in arranging two massive bonds worth a combined $3.5 billion. CommBank itself initially contributed $94.5 million for these two deals. 

APA Group

In November 2023, CommBank took part in a $1.25 billion loan to APA Group. While part of this loan will be used to fund APA’s acquisition of Alinta Energy’s existing Pilbara gas assets, it will also be used for ‘general corporate purposes’. The loan will not mature in full until 2033.

In 2023, APA Group signed preliminary agreements with the leading developers of the Beetaloo Basin, Empire Energy and Tamboran Resources, to construct pipelines that would unlock the carbon bomb Beetaloo Basin. Analysis on the Basin estimates that it would create 1.2 billion tonnes of CO₂-e over its lifetime, more than double Australia’s annual emissions in 2021.

APA Group, as a pipeline company, is not required to have a transition plan under CommBank’s current policy framework. This is a massive loophole when the pipeline infrastructure APA is planning to build will be used to unlock a project that CommBank would never be able to fund directly. 

CommBank must require all of its fossil fuel clients to have credible emissions reductions plans, otherwise it risks enabling them to develop projects completely out of line with its own climate commitments.

CommBank

CommBank Climate Scorecard

since January 2016

Total lending to fossil fuels

$15,791 million

Lending to companies with expansion plans

$5,268 million

Lending to expansionary projects

$3,060 million

Total emissions enabled from expansionary projects
(tonnes CO2)

6 billion

The data in this section covers the timeframe 1 Jan 2016 – 31 Dec 2022

Time for a policy change

CommBank’s current policy settings have plenty of loopholes that continue to enable fossil fuel expansion.

We have outlined below how CommBank can change its current fossil fuel lending policies to actually be aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement and restrict any kind of finance that would enable the expansion of the fossil fuel industry.

You can also refer to our detailed analysis of CommBank’s latest climate policy changes in August 2023. 

 

Commonwealth Bank policy scorecard

New or expanded fossil fuels Project finance policy wdt_ID Corporate finance policy Bonds policy Financing examples 2021-2023 (companies and projects)
Thermal coal mines (greenfield and mine expansions/extensions) X 80 Doesn't rule out companies building new, expanded or extended coal mines Doesn't rule out companies building new, expanded or extended coal mines
Coal power plants (greenfield and expansions) X 82 X X
Gas fields (new and expanded) X 84 Doesn’t rule out companies building or expanded new gas fields Doesn’t rule out companies building or expanded new gas fields Santos
Norwegian Energy Company (Noreco)
Beach Energy
Gas power plants Doesn't rule out new or expanded gas power plants 85 Doesn't rule out companies building new or expanded gas power plants Doesn't rule out companies building new or expanded gas power plants
LNG projects Doesn’t rule out new or expanded LNG projects 86 Doesn’t rule out companies building new or expanded LNG projects Doesn’t rule out companies building new or expanded LNG projects Santos
Cheniere Energy (Bond)
Oil fields Doesn’t rule out new or expanded oil fields 87 Doesn’t rule out companies building new or expanded oil fields Santos
Metallurgical coal mines (greenfield and mine expansions/extensions) Doesn’t rule out new, expanded or extended metallurgical coal mines 88 Doesn’t rule out companies building new, expanded or extended metallurgical coal mines Doesn’t rule out companies building new, expanded or extended metallurgical coal mines Glencore
Oil and gas field pipelines X 89 Doesn’t rule companies building pipelines for new and expanded oil and gas fields Doesn’t rule companies building pipelines for new and expanded oil and gas fields APA Group
Appendix

Market Forces report lending differently to the banks

Each of the big four banks report their fossil fuel exposures based on their lending portfolio to the industry. However, the banks use different reporting methodologies, with some reporting in more detail than others in terms of total exposures to the fossil fuel supply chain. 

Market Forces reports on the lending that banks participate in each year, including refinancing of existing deals. We consider each refinancing a conscious decision by a lender to continue supporting a company or project. Lending groups can and often do change upon refinancing and we want to capture this.

In addition, through refinancing existing loans for a new fixed term, a bank is making money available to a fossil fuel company that it otherwise would not have if the bank had decided to not refinance.

When banks report on exposure however, refinancing will not show up as ‘additional exposure’ unless the bank decides to commit more money, as the lending exposure is already on the bank’s books.

CommBank's reported fossil fuel exposure

CommBank reports its fossil fuel exposure to:

Gas (natural resources), thermal coal mining, thermal coal within ddiversified miners, oil, LNG terminals, coal terminals, gas for electricity generation, coal for electricity generation and oil distribution and refining.

These have been condensed into ‘coal’, ‘gas exc. LNG’, ‘LNG’ and ‘oil’ below for comparison.

 

Campaign news

17 June, 2024
International banks no longer involved with Santos’ Barossa gas project
7 February, 2024
Will the funders of Santos’ Barossa project live up to their human rights commitments?
16 November, 2023
Big four banks make strides, but action still dangerously slow in a climate emergency
10 November, 2023
NAB commits to future fossil finance restrictions, business as usual for next two years

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