Australia’s Big 4 Banks Still Sniffing Around Fossil Fuels

Australian banks and fossil fuel loansMajor Australian banks were getting back into fossil fuels in 2018 according to a new report from Market Forces, but there was also a big increase in exposure to renewable energy.

The “Big 4” – ANZ, CommBank, NAB and Westpac – all committed to support the principles of the Paris Agreement and their exposure to coal, oil and gas had been falling since. Still, since the Agreement, they had collectively loaned $21 billion to the coal, oil and gas sectors up until the early part of 2018, with a 50% spike in new fossil fuel projects.

As for what happened last year specifically, Market Forces indicates it was a bit of a mixed bag.

Coal Mining

Market Forces says Westpac increased its exposure in the coal mining sector by a whopping 140% compared to 2017 ($0.58B -> $1.40B), while ANZ’s was up 27%. Commbank reduced its exposure by 7% and NAB’s was relatively static.

Oil & Gas Extraction

ANZ’s exposure was up 5.7%, NAB up 9.5% and Westpac up 5.1%, while Commbank was down 4.9%.

Coal Power

In some good news, the exposure of all Big 4 banks in the coal power sector was down, ranging from -6.7% (Westpac) to -53% (Commbank).

Gas Power

Gas power exposure was also down across all four institutions, ranging from -6% (Commbank) to -13.1% (ANZ)

Renewable Energy Generation

ANZ’s exposure decreased 6.7%, while the other three saw solid increases – Commbank +33%, NAB +41.8% and Westpac +18.6%.

Among the fossil fuel projects banks became involved in last year were ANZ and CommBank’s recommitment to the Newcastle coal export terminal, with NAB also joining the list of lenders. ANZ, NAB and Westpac co-financed the acquisition of Queensland’s Kestrel coal mine. CommBank and NAB became involved with a massive new liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Texas and NAB loaned for the development of a new gas-fired power plant in Ohio, USA.

Demand More Action

While there was certainly some positive movement in 2018, Market Forces believes it’s not good enough, nor happening fast enough.

It says the Big 4 will only change if their customers, employees and shareholders speak up and demand action. The group offers resources on how customers can put their bank on notice, how to switch banks and how shareholders can have questions asked or resolutions put at AGMs. The organisation says that $590 million has been “put on notice” by bank customers through that aspect of its campaign.

Market Forces was launched in January 2013. It’s an affiliate project of Friends of the Earth Australia and a member of the BankTrack international network

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. Gary Doggett says

    Here are a few points that you will never read in a report from Market Forces.
    First, coal is fundamental to the global production of steel and cement, neither of which features on activist hit-lists. There’s about 800kg of coal in the average car and steel demand worldwide is growing with annual consumption of more than 5 billion tonnes. Natural gas is used to manufacture ammonia, fertilizers, explosives, methanol and plastics. Coal and gas are also the most abundant sources on earth of economically recoverable hydrogen, which is the centrepiece of Japan’s post-2020 energy economy. There are many reasons why investments continue to follow fossil fuels.

    • Des Scahill says

      According to this article: , the USA steel maker EVRAZ signed a deal for a solar installation to provide electricity for it’s manufacturing activities.

      The same article also states that: ‘ A recent study by Centrica Business Solutions found that among 1,000 global businesses, roughly one-quarter had already invested in on-site solar and/or combined heat and power, with the vast majority of businesses expecting this trend to increase over the next seven years.’

    • Des Scahill says

      This article from Yahoo News – – published on 18th January 2019 – is also typical of the many reasons why investment in ‘renewables’ is proceeding apace world-wide.

      To quote from the article; ‘Sixteen coal ash pits in Texas are leaking contaminants into groundwater, including arsenic, boron, cobalt and lithium, according to a report released on Thursday by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP)’

      Three of the power plants covered by the EIP report were shuttered in 2018, but the coal ash pits remain. Texas receives 24 percent of its electrical power from coal.’

      According to this table I found on the US Energy Administration Agency (EIA) website, Texas was also the USA’s largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions in 2016. Some 657.4 million tons were produced, some 81% more than California, the second highest state . ( see :

      The banks are not really the ‘culprits’ either. All four of them reduced their exposure to the Coal industry, 3 of them reduced their exposure to Natural Gas, and any increases in exposure seem to mainly relate to overseas projects, including a huge LNG project in Texas USA.

      Given the significant increases 3 of them show in ‘renewables’, it seems quite likely to me that if there had been more large scale ‘renewable’ projects available to invest in within Australia , then the banks may well have lent even more to that sector.

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