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Divest London protestors at last week's action at CommBank, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Photo: Divest London via Facebook.
Divest London protestors at last week's action at CommBank, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Photo: Divest London via Facebook.
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CommBank must ditch its plans to fund Great Barrier Reef destruction

Hal Rhoades

26th May 2015

As part of a global week of action campaigners from Divest London have gathered to ‘Raise the Heat' on the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, writes Hal Rhoades - protesting its plan to invest in a ‘carbon bomb' coal project that endangers global climate and threatens to finish off the Great Barrier Reef.

The 'Raise the Heat' campaign has turned the focus on CommBank, believing Adani will not get its project off the ground without support from an Australian bank.

Dressed as brightly coloured tropical fish, campaigners from Divest London 'shoaled' in protest last week outside the Commonwealth Bank of Australia's (CommBank) London offices.

A letter from the group explains that the bank was targeted over its plans to fund controversial coal projects that place the future of the Great Barrier Reef in doubt and threaten to seriously accelerate climate change.

CommBank "can show leadership and vote against this", the letter states. "As a globally significant investment bank, CommBank can say no to Adani and join 11 other major global investment banks who've ruled out involvement in this project.

"Failing to do so will only draw further criticism of the Bank, further protests, more account closures and more reputational risk."

The London action formed part of 350.org's Raise the Heat week that has seen over 50 protests at CommBank branches worldwide.

The campaign is demanding that the institution follows the lead of all the other international banks that have refused to fund Adani's Carmichael coal mine and Abbot Point coal port expansion in Queensland, Australia.

Save the reef, save the climate!

Campaigners, scientists and tourism bodies alike fear the development of these projects would have ruinous effects on the already stressed Great Barrier Reef.

According to Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland, over 50% of the Great Barrier Reef's coral is gone already, leaving it at severe risk of irreparable damage.

Hoegh-Guldberg says the reef's fate is closely linked to that of the climate. "We know that adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is extremely dangerous for the Great Barrier Reef ... coal extracted from the Queensland landscape, if burned along with other fossil fuel reserves, will ensure the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef."

Calling Adani's plans "the most insane coal project in Australia", Divest London campaigner Charlie Satow expressed the group's solidarity with other Raise the Heat campaigners worldwide:

"We've got so much love for what you're doing. We've seen it on twitter, we've watched the videos and it's amazing. We hope we can help from ten thousand miles away!"

Many others share the same hope. The stakes could scarcely be higher.

Funding Australia's 27 billion tonne 'carbon bomb'

If fully developed Adani Coal's £8.4bn Carmichael mine will produce 4.5 gigatonnes (billion tonnes) of CO2 over its 60-year life span.

Released into the atmosphere it has two effects, each deadly to coral reefs in their own way. First it increases globalwarming, stressing and ultimately killing the coral. Second the CO2 acidifies seawater making it harder for the coral organisms to form the calcium carbonate structures.

To make mining at Carmichael possible, Adani must ensure it can export its coal to markets in India and China. To do this it hopes to massively expand the coal port at Abbot Point, dredging a five million tonne channel through the Great Barrier Reef to create passage for giant ships. Adani also hopes to develop a new 189-kilometre railway to connect port and mine.

Between the 2008-14 period CommBank loaned $2.9 billion to fossil fuel projects in the Great Barrier Reef Heritage Area. So far the bank has refused to budge from it's plans to fund Adani's projects despite being a signatory to the Equator Principles that prohibit banks from funding projects that damage world heritage sites.

Speaking at the protest last Thursday, Hannah Martin, a campaigner with divest London and Reclaim the Power called on CommBank to respect its "duty to protect and care for the future of our environment."

Alongside other campaigners present, she called on the bank to recognise the financial and reputational risk it faces through association with these projects:

"Coal is not the future of our energy system. You need to be looking to stop fossil fuel extraction now. We cannot afford it environmentally or in terms of cost. You're create a massive carbon bubble that you will not profit from, so think about what you are doing, and stop!"

A total of six coal mines planned for the Galilee Basin

Though Adani's Carmichael mine is set to be the largest project in the Galilee Basin, it will not be alone. Plans are a-foot for at least six new coal mines in the region. All are hoping to exploit a Goliath coal deposit covering 95,400 sq.km, an area the size of the UK.

If fully exploited, emissions from coal extracted and burnt from the basin would reach 700 million tonnes per year and 27 billion tonnes in total; a significant contribution to consuming the world's remaining 500-800 gigatonne carbon budget.

Campaigners have identified stopping the Carmichael mine and Abbot Point expansion as keystones in the fight to prevent the 'carbon bomb' beneath Galilee Basin being detonated by the fossil fuel industry. If Adani cannot finance port expansion and a rail link, others are deemed unlikely to be able to, leaving companies without the ability to get coal from the basin to market.

There are promising signs that pressure applied in Australia and abroad to keep Queensland's coal underground is paying off to Adani's detriment. The global slump in coal prices also means that Adani are facing an uphill battle to justify the economics of the project to risk-averse investors.

Low prices, rising costs

The price of thermal coal is at an all-time low of around $60 per tonne. Despite Adani's claims to have buyers for 70% of the coal it plans to extract at Carmichael, estimates suggest the price of coal would need to be closer to $100 per tonne to make the full operation economically viable. With China's coal burn on a declining trend, this is looking increasingly improbable.

The company is also facing rising costs. Despite permitting dredging at Abbot Point, Queensland's new Labour Government has ruled that Adani will have to pay for the process, withdrawing millions of dollar of taxpayer money and outlawing off-shore dumping of dredged material. The government has also withdrawn hundreds of millions of Australian dollars promised to fund Adani's planned mine-port rail link.

Opposition from determined green groups like those uniting in to support Raise the Heat is toxifying association with Adani's projects amongst investors.

So far eleven international banks have said they will not finance Abbot Point or the Carmichael mine, including HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

The State Bank of India is understood to be on the verge of withdrawing $1 billion of support and if UNESCO decides to upgrade the Great Barrier Reef's status to 'in danger' in the coming weeks, other banks who are signatories to the Equator Principles will be effectively be ruled out.

Keep it in the ground!

The 'Raise the Heat' campaign has turned the focus on CommBank, believing Adani will not get its project off the ground without support from an Australian bank.

Mark Howitz, a Divest London campaigner and CommBank shareholder gave his perspective in the midst of dancing fish and banners in central London:

"As a customer and a share holder of the Common Wealth Bank I don't want the bank to be investing in something for people worldwide through contributing to climate change. I would like the bank to make money, I get dividends from it, but I don't want them to do it at the cost of other peoples' wellbeing".

Speaking at a parallel protest in Sydney, 350.org campaigner Isaac Astill outlined what Australia stands to gain if the reef can be protected, pointing out that "the Great Barrier Reef provides 69,000 jobs, it's a $6 billion industry and it's one that will be there forever and ever as long as we preserve the Great Barrier Reef."

Raise the Heat's website clearly states that this week of action is just the start for CommBank. Protracted public protests and mass divestment are yet to come, thousands of customers have already left the bank in protest, and staff are feeling increasingly demoralised by their employer's attitude.

Surely it is only a matter of time until CommBank wake up and decide to 'keep it in the ground and get off the reef", says campaigner Pekka Piiranen, emphatically.

 


 

Hal Rhoades is Communications and Advocacy Officer at the Gaia Foundation. He also writes for indigenous news journal Intercontinental Cry.

Divest London is a citizens' movement, pushing institutions across the capital to divest from fossil fuels. We are part of the global Fossil Free divestment movement.

 

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