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People of faith challenge big banks on climate fail

People of faith were part of “human chain” protests at National Australia Bank (NAB) headquarters in capital cities on Wednesday, May 31, and some even joined those blockading the entrance doors. Concerned about the climate crisis, Christians, Buddhists and a Muslim sought to challenge the bank after revelations that NAB is Australia’s most regressive of the big four banks, having actually increased its financing for fossil fuels in the last two years.

Retired Uniting Church Minister, the Rev. Dr Chris Walker, said, “The National Australia Bank is funding coal and gas mining and infrastructure at a time when all major scientific bodies, the United Nations and senior religious leaders such as Pope Francis are warning that there can be no new fossil fuel extraction opened if we are to stay under 1.5°of warming.

“I cannot stand by silently and let NAB continue funding fossil fuels while so many are already losing their lives, their livelihoods and homes because of climate impacts and while the course we are on could lead to drastic changes to life on earth as we know it.”

A report just published by Market Forces called Banking Climate Failure showed that the big four banks, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac, have collectively lent $57.5 billion to fossil fuel-intensive industries since 2016.

NAB has loaned $3.3 billion to coal mining, in spite of a climate policy that says the bank seeks to align itself with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The bank boasts that 73 per cent of its lending to power generation projects is to renewable energy but has quietly also been increasing its funding of fossil fuels.

NAB’s policy says that it doesn’t lend to fossil fuel “projects” as such, which is technically true, but in practice the bank funds the companies that build those projects.

“It’s this deception that we want to be publicly known,” said Gillian Reffell, one of the Buddhists attending the protest. “We specifically want NAB to stop funding Whitehaven Coal, the largest Australian undiversified coal company with ambitions to double its exports by 2030.”

Mr Walker said, “My faith in Jesus leads me to a radical compassion for the poor who today are suffering the most from climate-induced super-storms, floods, droughts, unpredictable weather patterns and sea level rise.

“Writing letters and other conventional forms of protest have not led humanity away from the brink of climate catastrophe, so there seems to me a place for non-violent civil resistance in this struggle.

“When those advocating for change publicly take peaceful, nonviolent action which could lead to arrest and personal cost, those with power are challenged to make decisions which are more ethical. That is historically how the civil rights movement, the movement for Indian independence and the anti-Apartheid movement were successful.”

Pope Francis is the latest senior faith leader to call for an end to new coal and gas mining. In a statement on May 25 he said, “It is madness to permit continued exploration and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.”

“Let us heed our call to stand with the victims of environmental and climate injustice, and to put an end to the senseless war against creation,” the pontiff said.


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