May 4, 2014

Hundreds of Australians divest from the Big Banks

Over the 2nd and 3rd of May, hundreds of Australians used their to send the Big Four Banks a powerful message that fossil fuels are not a fringe social and environmental issue – they’re a growing financial and reputational risk that can’t be brushed away.

As climate impacts intensify and the latest IPCC report is more emphatic than ever on the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, research reveals that, since 2008, the Big Four Banks – Commonwealth, NAB, ANZ and Westpac – have loaned $19 billion to new coal and gas projects in Australia, in places like the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the Leard State Forest.

But rather than brush this off as the Big Banks have, customers have been stepping up to warn their banks that they’ll take their money elsewhere if the banks continue to finance fossil fuels. Since October 2013, over $200 million has been moved out of the Big Four Banks.

In recent months, Big Four customers have sent emails and letters, made phone calls and participated in public account closures at their local bank branches. And they’ve given the Banks notice that over $120 million more of their savings will be shifted if they continue lending to coal and gas.

This weekend, those efforts were taken to the next level as hundreds of Australians turned out at branches around the country from Melbourne, Maules Creek and Maroochydore to Wollongong and the West.

Mothers, grandmothers, children, doctors, scientists, local business owners, retail workers, farmers, even miners – all joined force to show the Big Banks that fossil-fuel driven climate change is not a distant fuzzy  risk – it’s a risk that’s already starting to manifest at their core – from their own customers and, increasingly, through the conversations that their customers have, with their own staff, the media and the public at large.

If the banks won’t give fossil fuels the flick, if they won’t withdraw the capital that the fossil fuel industry so desperately depends upon to get new coal and gas projects off the ground, then customers will give the banks the flick. They’ll show that even the Big Banks aren’t immune from the risks that they are exposing us to by continuing to fund fossil fuels. Sooner or later those risks are going to come back to bite them – these past two days were just the start.

Indeed, fossil fuel risks are something that major financial institutions globally are now waking up to. In recent weeks, the world’s largest fund manager – BlackRock – warned of the reputational risks associated with investing in projects on the Great Barrier Reef. Just a few weeks later they announced the creation of fossil free stock market indices with London’s FTSE Group.

Combined with divestment announcements from the likes of Norway’s largest insurance company Storebrand, a divestment review by the world’s largest Sovereign Wealth Fund and withdrawals of funding for new coal by the Scandinavians and the US, and major banks like the World Bank, the US Import-Export Bank and more, these developments show that fossil fuel divestment is moving into the mainstream.

It’s now time for Australia’s Big Banks to come to terms with these developments lest they become financial laggards. It’s time for them to see that the writing is on the wall for the fossil fuel industry; to realise the devastating impacts that fossil fuel extraction has – from illness, loss of livelihoods, contamination of water resources and food-producing land to the devastation of precious ecosystems and the fracturing of local communities and economies, not to mention dangerous climate change.

When will the Big Four banks wake up to these risks and give fossil fuels the final flick? Only when they see that we aren’t going to go away, that the problem isn’t going to go away. They may lose our money, lose our business, lose our respect but we’re going to keep coming out, speaking up and turning out at events like this weekend’s, for as long as it takes for the Big Banks to pull their capital out of these damaging industries and put them into the clean, green, just industries upon which our future depends.

There is an alternative to the fossil fuel dominated economy that the Big Four are currently supporting – it’s a clean and just energy economy. Research even shows it can be cheaper and create more jobs than the high-carbon economy. With the scale of capital under their management and with governments failing to lead, financial institutions like the Big Four face a unique opportunity to drive this transition and show real climate leadership at a time when the world so badly needs it.

Join us to grow this powerful consumer movement for a just and sustainable future and together let’s go fossil free! Put your bank on notice today and join Australia and Market Forces for the next wave of bank switch activities.

Checkout this highlights video…

For more:

– Like and share our photos from the day.

– Sydney Morning Herald, “Bank accounts closed in fossil fuel protest”, 2nd May

– The Age, “Customers switch banks in day of divestment”, 3rd May.