By Rev. Dr Chris Walker

I have been involved in some protests recently seeking to get National Australia Bank to stop funding coal. NAB has been the worst bank offender claiming on the one hand to be on side with reducing carbon emissions for the sake of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees and on the other hand increasing, not decreasing, its funding of coal mining such as Whitehaven Coal. Here are some of the details about NAB’s hypocrisy drawing on a handout written by Jon O’Brien.

Research by Market Forces shows NAB has lent $ 4.5 billion to fossil fuel companies in the last two years, including $2.4 billion to new or expanded mines. This makes the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees (the 2016 Paris Agreement) harder to achieve. This lending is also out of step with NAB’s stated climate policies.
NAB says its climate strategy is designed to: “help achieve emissions reduction targets consistent with a maximum temperature rise of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100” And: “our ambition is to act as a catalyst for climate action, supporting emissions reduction and aligning with pathways to net zero by 2050”. NAB’s continued funding of fossil fuels makes those commitments look hollow. NAB can’t seriously claim to be committed to reducing emissions and limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, when its actions help increase emissions and reduce the chances of achieving that goal.

What we know needs to happen

  • The International Energy Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations say, to keep warming to 1.5 degrees, we must have no new coal or gas mines.
  • Climate researchers estimate 95% of Australia’s coal reserves must stay in the ground, to have just a 50% chance of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees and to avoid the worst climate change.

NAB’s funding of coal enables emissions that harm our health and increase the risk of destructive climate change. This affects us now and will grow worse if we don’t act to stop it.

  • Air pollution: Fossil fuel pollution causes premature death (from cancer, heart disease, stroke) more asthma attacks and higher rates of ADHD and low birth-weight babies.
  • Cost of living: Insurance costs (from flood and fire), energy and home insulation, food prices (due to food shortages from flood, drought etc) and health costs, are all affected.
  • Harmful weather events now: In just the last three years we have experienced record heats waves, destructive storms, devastating floods and terrifying bushfires.
  • Worse impacts in future: The intensity of floods, storms, drought and fires will increase as the world warms. Over time sea levels will rise and many in low lying areas, including our near Pacific neighbours, will be made homeless.

It is possible to turn this around if we act now. Our scientists tell us this is a human caused problem and we know how to fix it. The first step is to make deep and rapid cuts to fossil fuel use, quickly followed by stopping use completely. Everyone has to act on climate, but huge funders like NAB, and other banks, have a bigger responsibility.

A media release following pray-in protests at the NAB headquarters in Sydney and Parramatta included the following comments from myself and Jon O’Brien.

“I have been concerned about the issue of climate change for many years. It arises from my Christian faith in God the Creator who calls us to care for and appreciate creation. We need to take action to reduce emissions and transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It is imperative that action be taken now before it is too late to prevent serious climate warming and the devastating effects that it is already bringing.

Coal is the worst offender. Coal export is Australia’s biggest contribution to the global climate crisis. We, people of faith, are distressed by NAB’s stubborn financing of fossil fuel extraction. All of us, wherever we live, will be subject to the negative consequences of climate change, yet it is people who have contributed least to the problem that are suffering the consequences most.

First published on Chris Walker’s blog, June 5, 2023