Nationals call for ANZ boycott after bank’s push for net zero emissions

Nov 3, 2020 | News

Elias Visontay

A climate change commitment from ANZ to halt lending to its largest customers unless the businesses can prove carbon transition plans by next year has been cautiously welcomed by conservationists, but enraged senior Nationals MPs.

ANZ’s new emissions policies, outlined in a climate change statement at its full year results presentation on Thursday morning, aim to support efforts to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – but not net zero gas or oil by 2050 – with significant steps to be taken by the 2021 financial year to shape the bank’s operations until 2030.

ANZ will no longer bank any new business customers with a more than 10% exposure to thermal coal, and will demand “specific, time bound and public diversification strategies” from existing customers with more than 50% thermal coal exposures.

“Over time, we will move away from working with customers that do not have clear and public transition plans,” the statement said, adding that it will first try to “encourage 100 of our largest emitting customers to develop transition plans in key sectors such as energy, transport, buildings and food, beverage and agriculture” in the 2021-22 financial year.Overwhelming majority believe Australia is already experiencing climate changeRead more

The bank will also “only finance the construction of new large-scale office buildings if they are highly energy efficient”, and by next year, will disclose “more robust and credible metrics” so the impact of its lending to the power generation and commercial property industries is clearer.

Both direct emitters and indirect emitters – businesses who rely on coal emissions in the value chain – are in the scope of ANZ’s “selection process” when requiring concrete transition plans.

By 2030, ANZ will only lend to renewable or gas power generation, as it “will have exited all direct lending to coal-fired power generation and thermal coal mines”.

ANZ will also aim to have all its operations “100% powered by renewable electricity” and more of its premises in “low or net zero carbon buildings” by 2025.

The plan drew a sharp rebuke from the Nationals, with agriculture minister David Littleproud calling for a boycott of the bank and deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, saying the bank’s plan is “virtue signalling” that will hurt farmers.

Responding to the announcement, Littleproud said regional Australians should reconsider using banks that impose “crippling new carbon targets and penalties on Australian farming families”.

“Banks are not and should not try to become society’s moral compass and arbiter – the Australian people decide that by who they elect,” he said.

“We can’t let unelected, profit-driven financiers from Pitt Street dictate to society how to produce food and fibre or how we run our economy.

Littleproud said the policy showed “just how out of touch ANZ” is with regional communities, and vowed the federal Nationals “will review every policy lever” at their disposal to protect farmers from “arbitrary boardroom ideological agendas”.

Stronger action on climate action has recently received the backing of farmers, with the National Farmers’ Federation among 10 leading industry organisations and unions calling for tougher action on climate change in August. The federation supports a net zero carbon target by 2050, and the red meat sector has a target of being carbon neutral by 2030.

Joel Fitzgibbon, Labor’s agriculture and resources spokesman, said he had sought assurances that ANZ’s policy would not adversely affect farmers, and called the new policies “obviously a bit of a pitch to shareholder activism”.

Fitzgibbon, MP for the coal-producing Hunter electorate and whose position on coal is often at odds with more progressive elements of his party, criticised the harshness of the Nationals response to ANZ’s statement, and said he had instead “given them [ANZ] the benefit of the doubt”.

“I absolutely appreciate that banks have to measure and bank risk, I just hope that’s what they’re talking about here, and not some form of virtue signalling,” Fitzgibbon said.

McCormack said “the banking sector’s entire focus should be on supporting our agricultural producers, not adding an extra layer of administration”.

“Transport, fertiliser and fuel companies snared by these new rules could have no choice but to pass on costs along the agricultural supply chain, only to have farmers pick up the bill at the end.

McCormack also said “imposing largely Euro-centric standards” as a condition of lending “is sheer virtue signalling”.

Resources minister and Nationals MP Keith Pitt also called for Australians “who feel let down by ANZ’s decisions to look around for a better deal”.

Five Nationals senators – including party leader in the senate Bridget McKenzie, Perin Davey and Matt Canavan – also released a joint statement condemning the ANZ’s position, with Canavan concerned farmers were being “blackmailed into adopting the woke policies of a bank”.

At ANZ’s results presentation on Thursday morning, chief executive, Shayne Elliott, played down Nationals’ criticism that the policy was “shifting support away from farmers”, telling investors “I want to assure you that this is absolutely not the case”.Climate crisis: business, farming and environment leaders unite to warn Australia ‘woefully unprepared’Read more

He said the policy is “focused on the top 100 carbon emitters, and will have no impact on the bank’s farmgate lending practices” or “family farms”.

Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy likened the climate policy to “baby steps” but said banks need to move faster and apply the tough metrics to oil and gas companies too, so it can align with the Paris agreement of net zero emissions by 2050.

“The bank will continue to financially support companies with more than 50% thermal coal exposure, despite acknowledging that companies that make more than 10% of their revenue from thermal coal are materially exposed,” she said.

“While ANZ will encourage those customers to diversify and broaden their assets, it has refused to set a firm exit date for its investments in thermal coal companies,” she said.

Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac have also all made statements acknowledging the push towards net zero emissions by 2050.