OPIN­ION JEANETTE FITZSI­MONS

Element - - Business -

Many of us are try­ing to live more sus­tain­ably: riding bikes, eat­ing or­ganic, wast­ing less, build­ing green, re­duc­ing our per­sonal foot­print.

Yet some­how the dam­age to the planet keeps in­creas­ing. Green­house gases keep ris­ing, ice keeps melt­ing, ocean reefs dy­ing, more pes­ti­cides are be­ing used – it’s as though there are two par­al­lel worlds.

It comes as a shock to re­alise we are fund­ing all this with our sav­ings. That’s right – the same in­dus­tries we are try­ing to re­place by liv­ing more sus­tain­ably are thriv­ing on the cap­i­tal we pro­vide them through pen­sion funds and banks.

That re­al­i­sa­tion has given rise to an in­ter­na­tional “di­vest­ment” cam­paign – specif­i­cally to per­suade banks, pen­sion funds, univer­sity and church en­dow­ment funds and other in­sti­tu­tions that hold our money to take it out of fos­sil fu­els and put it into busi­nesses that will build the pos­i­tive, sus­tain­able fu­ture we all want.

The grow­ing un­der­stand­ing of the ur­gency and se­ri­ous­ness of cli­mate change has driven di­vest­ment even at the high­est lev­els. In June Pres­i­dent Obama di­rected the US Govern­ment to stop fund­ing over­seas coal projects. Also this year the World Bank, the Euro­pean Bank and the US Ex­portIm­port bank have all de­clared they will no longer fi­nance coal-fired power projects ex­cept in a few cases where there is no other al­ter­na­tive.

In Aus­tralia last month con­cerned cus­tomers of ANZ demon­strated against the bank’s as­so­ci­a­tion with coal by pub­licly cut­ting up their credit cards and shift­ing their ac­counts to other banks.

In New Zealand the Angli­can Church has this year com­mit­ted to di­vest­ing from all fos­sil fu­els and other churches are con­sid­er­ing it.

Coal is the big­gest source of cli­mate chang­ing car­bon diox­ide emis­sions. There is also far more of it left and avail­able to mine than there is of oil or gas. Anal­y­sis by the EU-based Car­bon­tracker and by the IPCC show that if we are to sta­bilise cli­mate even at two de­grees warmer than now, 80% of all the fos­sil fuel re­sources on the bal­ance sheets of com­pa­nies must stay in the ground. That makes in­vest­ment in coal risky from a fi­nan­cial per­spec­tive too.

The big­gest new cli­mate-threat­en­ing project in New Zealand is the pro­posal by Bathurst Re­sources to dig a large open-cast coal mine on the Den­nis­ton Plateau in West­land. It also hap­pens to be an area of unique and wildly beau­ti­ful bio­di­ver­sity with sev­eral species found nowhere else.

Bathurst is a new­comer here, and is still over 90% over­seas owned. It states it wants to be the big­gest coal miner in New Zealand. If this first “Es­carp­ment” mine at Den­nis­ton goes ahead it opens the door to an­other six in the area which will use the same in­fra­struc­ture. So who fi­nances Bathurst?

A small amount comes from our tax dol­lars that the NZ Su­per­an­nu­a­tion Fund in­vests to pre­pare for our re­tire­ment. They have been ap­proached and show no in­ter­est in di­vest­ing.

The big sur­prise though is that West­pac, banker for Bathurst, has ad­vanced them a $5m loan and var­i­ous lines of credit. It’s a sur­prise be­cause West­pac prides it­self at putting sus­tain­abil­ity “at the heart of its busi­ness.” They say this ap­plies to both their own op­er­a­tions and their choice of clients. Some­thing’s not right here. How can it pos­si­bly be sus­tain­able to fi­nance new coal mines, es­pe­cially one that is a gate­way to a big new pro­gramme?

That’s why Coal Ac­tion Net­work Aotearoa (CANA) and 350 Aotearoa, both com­mit­ted to a rapid phase out of fos­sil fu­els to pro­tect the cli­mate, have jointly launched a cam­paign to per­suade West­pac to dump coal.

We are not sure yet whether this in­vest­ment is a care­less over­sight that West­pac will want to cor­rect as soon as pos­si­ble, or whether it is a sign that their “sus­tain­abil­ity” is just green­wash­ing. We cer­tainly hope it isn’t the lat­ter, but they need to walk the talk and we are seek­ing a meet­ing with them to clar­ify. The ANZ ex­pe­ri­ence in Aus­tralia should be an in­di­ca­tion that bank cus­tomers are start­ing to watch where their funds are in­vested.

Ev­ery­one can take part, whether you bank with West­pac or not. See west­pac­dump­coal.org.nz

For more in­for­ma­tion on coal in New Zealand see coalac­tion­net­workaotearoa.word­press.com

For more in­for­ma­tion on get­ting your sav­ings out of fos­sil fu­els see go­fos­sil­free.org.nz

Visit el­e­ment­magazine.co.nz to have your say on this mat­ter.

The Den­nis­ton Plateau is to be mined for coal by Bathurst Re­sources, which is be­ing fi­nanced by West­pac bank. Photo: Si­mon East

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