Big Australian banks invest $7bn more in fossil fuels than renewables, says report

Australia’s big four banks invested three times as much in global fossil fuels as they did in clean energy in 2016, despite pledging to help Australia transition to a low carbon economy.

The banks provided a combined $10bn to projects around the world that expanded non-renewable energy, according to finance group Market Forces.

ANZ and the Commonwealth Bank were the worst offenders, investing over $3bn each in fossil fuels. In the same period, ANZ only lent $225m to renewables, giving it a 14:1 ratio.

Overall the banks invested $7bn more in fossil fuels than clean energy.

Only NAB approached parity, lending $1.35bn to non-renewables and $1.3bn to renewables. Commonwealth Bank and Westpac invested $846m and $426m in clean energy respectively, which was 3.5 and 4.6 times less than what they invested in fossil fuels.

Lending data graph illustrating loans for renewable and fossil fuel energy projects from Australia’s big four banks in 2016.
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Loans for renewable and fossil fuel energy projects from Australia’s big four banks in 2016. Illustration: Market Forces

These figures come despite all four banks publicly supporting a 2C global warming limit laid out in the Paris climate agreement.

“The first step to back up that commitment is to stop expanding the carbon fuel economy,” said the executive director of Market Forces, Julien Vincent. “We’re not talking small projects, we’re talking about opening up one of the largest offshore oil bases in Norway, or a new gas field in PNG.”

The report cited, among others, investments in Norway’s Johan Sverdup oil field, America’s Creole Trail natural gas pipeline, and the Browse basin gas field off the coast of Western Australia.

The Commonwealth Bank environment policy states it should “actively seek opportunities to lend to, invest in, and support businesses that decrease dependence on fossil fuels”.

“The updated policy expresses our commitment to support the transition to a low carbon economy”, it said in a 2015 press release.

Greenpeace said the bank was risking the credibility of its brand through fossil fuel investment.

“The Commonwealth Bank claims to support the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping climate change to well below 2 degrees but it has lent more to fossil fuel projects since the Paris Agreement was signed than any other Australian bank,” its climate campaigner, Nikola Casule, said.

“The Commonwealth Bank knows it has one of the most recognisable brands in Australia, it also knows that most Australians support stronger action on climate change. [Chief executive] Ian Narev … needs to decide whether he wants that brand associated with dirty coal or a future powered by clean renewable energy.”