OPINION JEANETTE FITZSIMONS
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