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Malaysian banks need to dump coal for a safer climate

22 September 2022

OPINION | Nabilla Gunawan, Indonesia Campaigner

Everyday, I see thick, grey smog across Jakarta’s skyline. I see this coal pollution that kills people in my city, Jakarta. The climate crisis is much more than a distant concern on the horizon. Millions of people across Asia are feeling the full force of more severe and frequent climate disasters. 

All too often, people from Malaysia to Pakistan and Indonesia are experiencing their worst floods in a lifetime. Close to 1,400 people have died in devastating flooding that has swept across Pakistan in the past month. Villages have been submerged by record floods in South Kalimantan and smashed by landslides, linked to coal mining activities in the area.

The lives of the hundreds of millions of people living in coastal areas across Asia, from Bangladesh to Java are facing disruption and displacement due to rising sea levels and dangerous storm surges.

Banks and financial institutions play a role in this unfolding climate catastrophe and in helping to fix it. Coal-fired power plants are in the firing line. The choice is clear: shape a safer climate future or keep funding an industry that is making our planet hotter and unlivable by mining and burning coal. For a safer climate, banks must choose the former and dump coal. 

More than 100 global financial institutions have restricted their support on fossil fuels, recognizing coal, oil and gas carry significant environmental, reputational and financial risks. Major global inter-governmental and scientific organisations agree that coal is an unsustainable, risky, and dirty investment. 

It is irresponsible for Malaysian and Asian banks to put their money in an industry that spews carbon emission into the atmosphere when our planet cannot afford it. 

Climate and sustainability are key issues for global banks. For instance, the Malaysian bank, CIMB, is hosting The Cooler Earth Summit in Kuala Lumpur this week. 

CIMB has a public position of embracing the transition to renewable energy. However, the Malaysian bank is still supporting Indonesia’s second largest coal company, Adaro Energy Indonesia (Adaro), even though the company recently confirmed that it will stay in the business. In fact, last year, Adaro derived 96 per cent of its revenue from coal.

Adaro’s Tutupan coal mine in South Kalimantan, Indonesia

In December 2020, CIMB introduced a commitment to phase out coal from its portfolio by 2040 and will prohibit asset-level or general corporate financing for new thermal coal mines as well as expansions. CIMB also has a policy published in June 2022 restricting its investment in greenfield thermal coal mines.

Yet Adaro has still been exploring new coal through one of its subsidiaries. Adaro dubbed its new and undeveloped ‘greenfield’ mining areas, the largest undeveloped deposits of ‘low calorific value’ or brown coal. The estimated 3.3 billion tonnes of coal resources cover a monstrous area of around 34,000 hectares. 

CIMB has not yet committed to stopping finance for Adaro, despite such support being inconsistent with its coal and energy policies. DBS, the largest Singaporean bank, has taken a different approach and recently advised that it has no intention of continuing to provide funding to the entities of Adaro if it remains primarily a thermal coal business. 

It’s critical that banks and investors make transparent commitments to stop financing for coal companies that have no clear plans to phase-down mining and use of fossil fuel.

It’s time for banks to put assets into sustainable and unsustainable categories and follow through. Banks must back their green financing principles not only by financing sustainable assets, but also dumping unsustainable ones. 

Unless coal companies have clear transition plans to reduce their mining production while diversifying their business interests to more sustainable investments, they are threatening the livability of our planet and must not be supported by banks. We must recognise this is an industry responsible for deadly air pollution. 

As long as banks are putting money into coal production and energy companies, the banks are responsible for threatening the failure of meeting global climate goals.

In the face of an urgent climate crisis, banks must act in the best interests of their customers by ending funding for a dying fossil fuel industry. We must leave coal in the ground for good.

First published in Malaysiakini