Funding Great Barrier Reef coal a quarter-trillion dollar risk to Aussie banks

Melbourne, 9 July 2014

Australia’s biggest banks risk losing customers worth over almost a quarter of a trillion dollars in savings alone if they fund new coal ports in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, a survey released today has found.

The Australia Institute survey, conducted for Market Forces, asked customers whether they would switch banks if their current one funded new coal projects in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Of those who banked with the “big four” (ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac), 11% (representing $58 billion in savings) would “definitely” move banks while another 33% would consider switching, bringing the total amount of savings at risk of changing banks to $236 billion.

Read The Australia Institute’s briefing note here.

A greater proportion of ANZ (49%) and NAB (48%) customers would be at risk of moving banks than Commonwealth (43%) and Westpac (39%), but their relative size meant that Commonwealth ($82.8 bn) and Westpac ($59.4 bn) could take a greater financial hit than NAB ($47.6 bn) and ANZ ($47.2 bn).

“Australians won’t tolerate the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area being threatened by new coal export projects and they certainly don’t want their money anywhere near those damaging projects,” said Market Forces Lead Campaigner Julien Vincent.

“The World Heritage Committee has made clear its concerns and regret over the approval to expand Abbot Point, involving a massive dredging operation. But new coal export projects also mean more coal ships in the Reef, more global warming as the coal is exported and burned, the impacts of mining and transport of coal on groundwater and air quality, and the industrialisation of several endangered species’ habitats. If the moral and environmental arguments aren’t enough for the banks to avoid these harmful projects, perhaps the thought of one in ten customers taking their money elsewhere will convince them.”

In the past two months, several major European banks have distanced themselves from the proposed expansion of Abbot Point. Deutsche Bank, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and Credit Agricole have all stated that they will not be financing the new terminals proposed at Abbot Point. Market Forces is calling on Australia’s biggest banks to do the same.

“We have a bizarre situation where European banks are now doing more to defend this great natural icon of Australia than Aussie banks. The big four need to step up and match or better the commitments made by banks in Europe. Their reputations and customer bases could depend on it,” said Mr Vincent.

A growing number of customers are warning their banks that they will move their money elsewhere unless loans to fossil fuel projects stop. Customers worth over $160 million in savings have made this commitment while at “divestment” events around Australia, hundreds of customers have already moved hundreds of millions of dollars in business away from the major banks.

Market Forces keeps track of the number of people who have put their bank “on notice” over fossil fuel investments, while providing a list of alternative banks and their positions on investing in the fossil fuel industry.

To read The Australia Institute’s briefing note, click here.

To view Market Forces’ research on fossil fuel investments in Australia from 2008 – 2013, click here.

To view the list of alternative banks and their positions on fossil fuel investments, click here.