CommBank faces backlash on fossil fuel lending

In an unprecedented reaction against CommBank’s refusal to phase out their lending to coal, oil and gas projects, the bank’s Board was forced to endure extended questioning and a protest at their annual general meeting in Perth today.

Many shareholders are obviously fed up and are demanding CommBank start acting on climate change, in line with their environment policy, which commits them to helping limit global warming to below two degrees.

Comm Bank is the second biggest Australian lender to dirty fossil fuels, with a ratio of $15 to coal, oil and gas for every $1 lent to renewable energy.

The AGM began with a question on CommBank’s refusal of a loan to a farming couple due to their land being devalued by coal seam gas wells which CommBank had itself partly funded.

Watch to see their reaction: 

It is quite worrying that the CEO and board are not aware of this case: especially due to its coverage in the media.

Another shareholder asked CommBank to confirm their commitment to the Equator Principles they have signed on to, which prohibits the support of projects where prior and informed consent from Indigenous people was not obtained.

Their response is a depressingly clear indicator that they don’t take the principles they have signed up to seriously. When the shareholder followed up by asking whether they would rule out funding to the Carmichael coal mine after the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council Traditional Owners have not given their consent, the board would not comment on the project. So is Commbank’s signature against the Equator Principles worth the paper it is written on?

After this Julien Vincent from Market Forces asked the bank’s auditor from Price Waterhouse Coopers whether they recognised climate change as a material business risk. Julien had submitted this question prior to the AGM but it was not answered properly. It turns out that the auditor had not taken climate change into account as a business risk, which is incredibly worrying for shareholders and customers alike.

After this the questions on climate change and fossil fuels kept coming, but the Board refused to commit to any substantial action to reduce their lending to the major cause of global warming. At this point shareholders grew tired of the boards unsatisfactory answers. Some began to chant in unison, while protesters stood up wearing T-shirts that spelt out “Act on climate’’.

Watch to see the shareholders peaceful protest inside the AGM:

It is clear that shareholders and customers are tired of the bank saying one thing and doing another. They want concrete action on climate and their actions today at the CommBank AGM sent a powerful message to the bank that they are not doing enough.

What you can do?

Are you a customer of CommBank or another of the big four? Put your bank on notice. Let them know they will lose you as a customer unless they phase out their lending to fossil fuels.

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