Commonwealth Bank Targeted Over Support For Coal Projects

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The Commonwealth Bank has been targeted by climate campaigners for the second day in a row, as anger over its support for the fossil fuels industry grows and protesters start to move to more direct and disruptive actions.

A group of around nine protesters are currently ‘occupying’ a Commonwealth Bank branch on the corner of Market and George in the Sydney CBD, after performing a similar action in Melbourne yesterday that saw the bank’s headquarters interrupted for nine hours.

Police are on the scene, although customers are still doing business inside the bank. A spokesperson on form the bank declined to comment on whether the branch would shut.

The actions are part of an escalating campaign against the bank, which is lining up to assist coal company Adani fund a massive expansion into Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

Image: Jeff Tan

This week’s protests have been led by 350.org, a global climate group dedicated to reversing emissions, and co-founded by environmentalist and activist Bill McKibben.

350’s media coordinator Krista Collard, who is watching the protest from outside, told New Matilda the bank was the only of the ‘big four’ to be publicly named dealing with Adani, and that it had failed to engage with community concerns about the Indian company’s Queensland projects.

“We have been trying to talk with Com Bank for years now and basically every time members of the public, members or concerned residents bring this up, they’ve been shielded from talking to anybody that has any decision making power,” Collard said.

Meetings with the bank have taken place but “our concerns have not been taken seriously,” she said.

Aside from concerns about damage to the Great Barrier Reef from the world's largest coal port, which Adani plans to construct at Abbott Point near Mackay, climate campaigners have warned an expansion of mining in the Galilee would be a disaster for global efforts to limit temperate increases.

Along with Artic oil and the Alberta tar sands, Queensland’s coalfields are seen as a key battleground for the fight to limit temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

While other banks have distanced themselves from the projects, environmental campaigners are concerned that if Adani is able to secure domestic credit it will trigger further international investment.

Adani has said its investment will be a boon for jobs, but the accuracy of its claims have been drawn into question.

An expert witness appearing before a Queensland Court recently testified that the 10,000 jobs Adani claimed its Carmichael mine would create would in fact be closer to 1,464.

The company has defended the impact exporting and burning Galilee coal will have on the Great Barrier Reef by arguing the world is on target for a 3.1 degree temperature increase regardless of whether the coal in the Galilee is left in the ground or extracted.

That level of warming is almost certain to destroy the reef.

In response to questions, a spokesperson for the Commonwealth Bank said the organisation recognised its role in addressing the challenge of climate change.

“In that regard we have invested in more than 170 renewable energy projects in the wind, solar, hydro and landfill gas power sectors,” they said.

Yesterday's Melbourne protest. Image: Jeff Tan

Phil Bradley, who is among a larger group of protesters outside the Sydney bank today, said banks should be investing in clean energy.

“We’re heading toward two degrees warming,” he said. “It’s going to be extremely difficult to stop that happening, particularly if we’re digging dirty coal.”

“It’s a peaceful demonstration, we’re being very careful not to harm customers.”

Collard said actions against the bank would continue.

“If the Commonwealth Bank doesn’t want to pull its support for this project then I think there’s a good chance that we’ll be back,” she said.

The bank’s spokesperson said it respected the right to peaceful protest.

“People have the right to express their views in any peaceful manner if they wish. We understand that the community want to ensure that we have robust practices and policies in place when we consider lending to organisations and that these practices cover the full range of environmental, social and governance impact,” they said.

Update: protesters have now left the branch

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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