Australia’s banks have come under renewed pressure to not fund the country’s largest coal projects after three of France’s leading financial institutions ruled out providing capital for the developments.
In response to questions from French climate activists, Société Générale, Crédit Agricole and BNP Paribas all said they will not be involved in proposed mines for the coal-rich Galilee Basin region of central Queensland.
Letters from the banks rule out the mines, which include developments from Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal and Adani’s $16.5bn Carmichael project. BNP Paribas’ letter extended this to “related dedicated infrastructure projects”. This could refer to a new rail line needed to take coal to the Abbot Point port, which is set to be expanded as part of the developments.
A total of 11 international banks have publicly distanced themselves from the Galilee Basin projects in one form or another, including HSBC, Barclays, Morgan Stanley and Citi.
The coal projects are opposed by environmentalists due to the huge volume of greenhouse gas emissions they will create, as well as concerns over the impact upon the Great Barrier Reef. Minerals will be exported overseas from Abbot Point, which lies adjacent to the reef.
The mining industry, however, has stressed that the projects are crucial in creating thousands of jobs in Queensland as well as billions of dollars in taxes. The industry has also said concerns over increased shipping and associated dredging and dumping of seabed sediment for port expansion have been overblown.
According to an analysis by fossil fuel divestment group Market Forces, French banks were the fifth largest source of debt finance for Australian fossil fuel projects between 2008 and 2014.
“Regardless of how Adani is attempting to secure finance for its Carmichael mega coalmine and new export terminal at Abbot Point, it is inevitable that this project will require a syndicate of major international banks contributing to a debt facility,” said Julien Vincent, lead campaigner at Market Forces.
“For 11 of the world’s ‘go-to’ banks for coal finance to now be out of the picture means the options available to Adani for the billions of dollars of debt it will need are severely limited.”
Climate group 350.org is to kick off a fresh campaign to pressure the Commonwealth Bank to rule out funding for the Carmichael project. The activist organisation has previously highlighted CBA chairman David Turner’s directorship role with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation in an attempt to make the bank distance itself from the project.
“The actions of major banks from overseas really highlights the silence from Australian banks on this issue,” said Charlie Wood, campaigns director at 350.org. “There are so many things risky about this project, at a time when we should be peaking our emissions. Australian banks need to follow the example of overseas banks and say no.”
None of the “big four” Australian banks – ANZ, CBA, Westpac and NAB – have publicly ruled out funding the Carmichael project and Adani has consistently maintained that it will ensure funding for the mine, which will remove up to 60m tonnes of coal a year for export.
An Adani spokesman said: “The company continues to progress the financing arrangements for its projects in Australia.
“Adani has not formally requested any financing from the institutions you have referred to. An institution ruling out something it was not requested to do has no bearing on this company.
“Adani’s projects in Queensland comply with the strictest environmental conditions in a world’s best practice environmental approvals framework.”
A spokeswoman for CBA declined to comment directly about funding Galilee Basin projects.
Instead, she said in a statement: “We recognise that we play a crucial role in enabling economic and social development of Australia supporting jobs, growth, innovation and opportunities for people and businesses.
“We also recognise our role in addressing the challenge of climate change, including helping organisations to transition to a low-carbon economy, investing in renewables and ensuring we have robust responsible lending practices in place.”
“We have a robust approach to responsible lending for any project, no matter where it is.”
This article was written by Oliver Milman, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 8th April 2015 14.12 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010