Still backing fossil fuel expansion
Loaned to dirty fossil fuels globally since 2016
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, CommBank has financed climate wrecking fossil fuel developers including Glencore, Santos and Beach Energy over the last two years. 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.
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.However, this is a bank that has historically 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 update its policy 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.
For instance, CommBank’s current policy for corporate finance to oil and gas companies is to:
“only offer corporate or trade finance to existing oil and/or gas producing, metallurgical coal mining or coal-fired power generation Clients after an assessment of the environmental, social and economic impacts. From 2025, we will expect these Clients to have published Transition Plans.”
That gives at least two more years for CommBank’s climate wrecking clients, like Santos, Glencore and Beach Energy, to progress their new fossil fuel projects before CommBank will even consider ending their banking relationship with them.
Corporate finance – money loaned to a company, rather than a specific project – has made up almost 70% of CommBank’s lending to the fossil fuel industry since 2016. This is a massive loophole the bank can exploit to continue financing fossil fuel expansion, despite its commitments to the climate goals of the Paris Agreement and net zero emissions by 2050.
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 $2.2 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.
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.
Commbank’s clients – case studies
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.
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 three new proposed coal mines currently under assessment – including the greenfield Wandoan mine, Glendell expansion, and the Hunter Valley Operations expansion, which would see coal mines operating until 2050 – well past any Paris-aligned scenario.
To be providing corporate finance to a company with new coal projects in its pipeline is totally at odds with the intent of CommBank’s current commitment to ‘provide no project finance to new or expanded Thermal Coal Mines’ and to be out of thermal coal completely by 2030.
What CommBank finances now is critical, because money lent 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 coal mines or risk providing finance to projects that condemn us to climate catastrophe.
CommBank Climate Scorecard
since January 2016
Total lending to fossil fuels
Lending to companies with expansion plans
Lending to expansionary projects
Total emissions enabled from expansionary projects
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.
Commonwealth Bank policy scorecard
|New fossil fuels
|Project finance policy
|Corporate finance policy
|Lending examples (companies and projects)
|Doesn't rule out companies building new or expanded coal mines
|Coal power plants
|Doesn't rule out companies building new or expanded coal power plants
|Doesn’t rule out new or expanded gas fields
|Doesn’t rule out companies building or expanded new gas fields
Norwegian Energy Company (Noreco)
|Gas power plants
|Doesn't rule out new or expanded gas power plants
|Doesn't rule out companies building new or expanded gas power plants
|Doesn’t rule out new or expanded LNG projects
|Doesn’t rule out companies building new or expanded LNG projects
|Doesn’t rule out new or expanded oil fields
|Doesn’t rule out companies building new or expanded oil fields
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.