Home > Market Forces founder Julien Vincent receives Goldman Environmental Prize

Market Forces founder Julien Vincent receives Goldman Environmental Prize

25 May 2022

Hi everyone. This is a pretty special moment for me, but also for Market Forces, our team and supporters, and all those who have taken action to shift finance and investment away from fossil fuels.

Today I have been given the honour of receiving a Goldman Environmental Prize. This is the most prestigious award in the world recognising grassroots environmental campaigning and I’m extremely humbled and proud to receive it.

I want to use this message to share a few thoughts about what the award means to me, what it means in terms of the context of our work, and the moment our campaigns are in right now. And I’ll throw in the occasional acknowledgement along the way.

For me, much of the honour this award bestows is the company it places me among. The Goldman Environmental Prize has been running for 33 years, and this is the sixth occasion it has gone to an Australian. In 1990 – the Prize’s first year – the award was given to Bob Brown for the campaign to protect the Franklin River from damming.

If it wasn’t for Bob, I doubt I’d have leant so much into environmental activism. 20 years or so ago he inspired me as a politician that didn’t trigger my bullshit detector, answered questions honestly and continuously projected a wonderful vision of the world we live in as kind to both people and the natural environment we’re part of. Shortly after I found out I’d be receiving the Prize I was able to speak to Bob and being able to thank him for inspiring me to throw myself into environmental activism was as rewarding as the Prize itself.

The Prize has also been received by several other Australians, including those responsible for campaigns that captivated the nation as I was growing up, from the protection of Fraser Island from sand mining and deforestation to those resisting nuclear waste dumps and the Jabiluka uranium mine. The most recent Australian recipient was Wendy Bowman, who stood her ground against advances by Yancoal, which wanted to build a new coal mine at the site of her Hunter Valley property.

To be on a list alongside these people and campaigns felt weird at first. After all, these are the campaigns I would be told stories about as I was first getting into campaigning two decades ago. But the more I think about it, the more I see the parallels between these campaigns and the climate movement’s recent experience.

A few words from Julien about the Prize

For the last ten years we have had our own iconic battlegrounds: the Galilee Basin and the massive plans to expand coal exports through the Great Barrier Reef. That has been the backdrop to so much of the campaigning we have done and success to shift finance and investment away from fossil fuels.

When Market Forces started, we were facing nine mega mines in the Galilee Basin, many of which have gone nowhere. Only one, Adani’s Carmichael mine, has managed to dribble out the most pitiful amount of coal and even today is a campaign that could be won if we choose to keep pushing financial institutions away.

This movement has also seen off more than 500 million tonnes per year of new coal export capacity that was proposed to be built along the Great Barrier Reef coastline.

The success that has been generated by the campaign to prevent the Galilee Basin coal mines has resulted in win after win after win. I remember in 2017, Westpac updated its coal policy to rule out financing thermal coal mines unless its energy content was just higher than what Adani was able to achieve. It was cowardly, but it worked. We called it the Adani clause, and it pissed off Tony Abbot, Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan, so we knew it was genuine. There have now been 112 companies that have ruled out working with or financing all or part of the Carmichael coal export project and in many cases, it has led to policies ruling out supporting coal mining or power much more broadly.

So I want to thank everyone connected with this campaign, whether you’re part of a grassroots group, whether you work at a non-government organisation (or have done for several – it’s been a long campaign!) or have simply acted as an individual. It has all added to the success we can look back at over the last 10 years. Whether you’ve been publicly protesting, writing letters, doing research, making calls, taking part in the actions we and so many other groups have asked you to take, and being active in social media, it has all added up. Whether you’re from a city, a rural town or a more remote part of Australia, or even another part of the world – this campaign has been international in scope and its success the result of all our actions.

We’re already seeing evidence of the Galilee Basin campaign taking its place alongside those other iconic battles to protect the environment. It’s not why you took action, but be proud of the fact that you’re part of something that will be spoken about for decades to come, and provide lessons for generations of environmental activists. That only happens when you’ve had a huge impact.

One of the best indications of how much the world has changed since Market Forces started is the fact that about a month after we started operating, this was the front cover of insurer QBE’s annual report:

These days it’s the sort of image we’d use to parody the company as part of a campaign.

I want to acknowledge some people and groups, who have been instrumental in my and Market Forces’ success. The obvious place to start is the Market Forces team, past and present. Building a consistently impactful organisation and a great team is as much a challenge as winning campaigns, and as much an achievement. The group of people we’ve been able to cultivate are the main reason Market Forces has enjoyed so much success, both in Australia and internationally. It’s the same with any organisation – its people are the key factor behind its success and we’ve done bloody well for ourselves.

I also want to acknowledge Friends of the Earth, which said yes to taking on this half-baked idea of an environmental finance campaign ten years ago, and to organisations like 350.org, which we were able to partner with in the early years on so many of the activities that our campaigns have become known for.

Let me thank our funders, at whatever level they fund us. We need to pay people, we need to pay to keep the organisation running, we need to pay to deliver the campaign activities that we run, and we don’t have any products to sell. Just a vision for change, and plans to achieve it. People backing that vision, our goals, our mission and our team is essential to us being able to go about this work.

To my family I say a huge thank you for their support despite the demands this work has placed upon me. This applies to nobody more than my wife who has lifted me off the canvas when I’ve been knocked down, helped me work through innumerable complex challenges and provided the smiles, love and warmth to make me want to keep going.

And finally, I take great delight in acknowledging all of our supporters for the many and varied actions you have taken throughout the years. Without you, our campaigns are little more than great ideas with nowhere to go. You have and continue to drive our success and we are honoured to have the role of helping to channel the power you and others have in a way that forces change out of major companies and financial institutions. I couldn’t care less how cliched the phrase “people power” is. It’s how we have won. So thank you.

So what now? If humanity loses the race to keep global warming under control, it won’t be for a lack of money. It won’t be for a lack of technological capacity. It will be because we let cowardice, selfishness, and incompetence drive us over a cliff.

Last week I watched the AGM of Woodside Energy, a company that wants to go ahead with a massive new LNG project (Scarborough-Pluto) off the coast of Western Australia despite not having assessed this project against a 1.5ºC global warming scenario. Its Chairman, Richard Goyder, rightly faced critique and scrutiny from shareholders and proxies, including energy experts and Traditional Owners. Whenever the going got tough, the tough stood their ground at the microphone while the coward would cut it off or talk over them.

Later that day, Deutsche Bank held its AGM in Germany and was called upon to rule out any further financing of Whitehaven Coal, which it is currently exposed to through a loan. It failed to do this, despite having a policy that now rules out finance to the expansion of thermal coal mining, which is exactly what Whitehaven is pursuing.

Both of these companies are given cover by investors. Some people in the asset management industry are trying to make a difference but overwhelmingly, this is an industry riddled with incompetence, stupidity and laziness. Why should we be concerned about that? Because their laziness is allowing fossil fuel companies to pursue huge expansion plans when we don’t even have enough space in the carbon budget to burn all of the fossil fuels currently in production. And we should be even more concerned because these investors are using our money to give cover to these climate-wrecking companies.

How’s this for ridiculous: last year, Blackrock voted in favour of a shareholder proposal for Shell to align its business with the goals of the Paris Agreement, while also voting for a proposal by Shell itself backing the company’s climate plans, which would wildly miss the mark.

The number of companies doing all the climate damage is, in comparison to the total economy, minuscule. The number of people within these companies that stand to gain from this climate damage is also miniscule. Are we really going to let them get away with creating so much destruction to people, livehoods, property, cultures, nations, ecosystems so they can inflate their own wealth?

I want anyone reading this to be angry – but intelligently angry. The fact that this Prize has been awarded to me, recognising the success of Market Forces, acknowledges that campaigning works. But we need scale. We need as many people on board, channelling the anger they should rightly feel at how fossil fuel profiteers, wrapped in a protective cloak made up of apologists from the world of investment, into smart, effective actions. We’re going to need people to be relentless in their pursuit of the goal to keep global warming from spiralling out of control. That means you.