Australian banks lose millions of dollars as customers divest

Hundreds of customers have closed accounts at Australia’s four biggest banks in protest at their fossil fuel investments

Protesters gather at Byron Bay in Australia (Pic: Market Forces)

Protesters gather at Byron Bay in Australia (Pic: Market Forces)

By Sophie Yeo

Australia’s four biggest banks lost millions of dollars today, as customers closed their accounts in protest at their investments in fossil fuels.

Hundreds of customers moved around AU$ 4million out of Westpac, ANZ, NAS and the Commonwealth Bank in a protest organised by campaign groups Market Forces and 350.org to mark Australia’s first ‘National Days of Divestment Action’.

The push is part of a longer campaign which has so far seen customers move over $100 million out of the four banks on account of their fossil fuel investments. According to analysis by the Market Forces group, the banks have loaned AUD$ 19billion to new coal and gas projects since 2008.

“The rapid expansion of coal and gas in our country at the expense of communities, other industries and the environment is cause for concern for a great many Australians,” said Julien Vincent, Lead Campaigner for Market Forces.

“By moving their money to banks which do not fund fossil fuel projects, individuals are making a statement that it is not socially acceptable to profit from the destruction of our planet.”

Market Forces tweeted that they look forward to “ramping it up a notch” as protests continue across the country tomorrow.

Protest

Divestment is a growing movement which seeks to stigmatise the fossil fuel industry and starve it of finance, in an attempt to prevent it continuing to burn and explore more fossil fuels.

According to a report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, 60-80% of currently listed fossil fuels are “unburnable” if the world is to stay below 2C warming, the limit that has been agreed by governments around the world.

This means that the industry is creating a financial risk as well as fuelling climate change, say campaigners, as policy efforts to limit warming could mean these reserves cannot be exploited, and are therefore essentially worthless, creating a ‘carbon bubble’ effect.

The movement has already gained widespread support. Desmond Tutu has called for an “apartheid-style boycott” of the industry, while a number of colleges, cities and institutions have already made a commitment to divest, including the Quakers.

This week, a student at Harvard got arrested as he blockaded the door of Harvard University President Drew Faust in protest at the prestigious college’s refusal to divest its endowment fund – the largest of any educational institution in the world.

Earlier this year, a letter supporting the divestment movement was signed by over one hundred faculty members.

“The days where it was acceptable to invest in fossil fuels are over,” said Tim Ratcliffe, 350.org European Divestment Coordinator. “There is a groundswell movement building up and the banks need to start listening.”

Read more on: Climate Finance | Divestment |