This week 350 Aotearoa is in on the cusp of securing the first fossil free banking option for Aotearoa. In centres across the country, people will be joining together to take action calling for Kiwibank, TSB, and The Cooperative Bank to take a stand against the fossil fuel industry, and go public with a policy that rules out all investment in and loans to coal, oil and gas projects.

In Aotearoa we’ve been calling out on our banks’ ties to the fossil fuel industry for the last four and a half years. So why is this important now?

We know we’re close to a truly fossil free commitment from NZ-owned banks. We’re not sure who will be the first to get there, Kiwibank, TSB, or The Co-operative Bank, but the race is on. And we need New Zealanders to get out and show their support to push the banks across the line.

Why does it matter what the NZ-owned banks do when the major Australian-owned banks funnel millions of dollars towards fossil fuel projects in Aotearoa and around the world?

Our vision is to stop all loans and investments in fossil fuels, so that we can spark a fast and just energy revolution to 100% renewable energy and curb rising temperatures to 1.5C. It’s obvious the major Australian-owned banks, who have poured over $21 billion into coal, oil, gas projects over the last 5 years, are our biggest opponents here. But what this story is missing is a good alternative.

The banks have been able to operate in a cartel-like model; if no bank takes a stand against the fossil fuel industry, none of them have to. Kiwis are left without a choice but to use one of the “not-so-bad”. We deserve a bank which guarantees our money will never be funnelled into fuelling the climate crisis. New Zealanders need a fossil free banking option. And we need to demand it.

Much of the power of the divestment movement is in removing the social licence of the fossil fuel industry. This means that we need institutions to refuse financial ties with coal, oil, and gas, but also to draw a line in the sand publicly, with a clear policy. Just because our NZ-owned banks don’t fund fossil fuel projects situationally, it doesn’t mean they’re taking an active stand against them. We have needed a bank in Aotearoa to come out and clearly state that they will never invest in, or fund the fossil fuel industry.

Where are we at so far?

Over the last four years, we’ve changed the conversation to connect the impact of finance on climate change. In 2015, it was hard to explain why banks taking a stand on climate change mattered. With every action our supporters have taken, from sending letters to banks, and sharing posts on social media, to blockading banks and disrupting business-as-usual, we’ve shined a spotlight on the ties between our banks and the climate crisis.

Protesters stand in ANZ branch with 'carbon bubbles' (ballons) and a banner which reads 'ANZ Don't Fund the NZ Petroleum Summit'

Just nine months into our campaign, during which you, our supporters, wrote letters and called your bank, stickered ATMs and took actions releasing “carbon bubbles” inside ANZ branches, we successfully pressured ANZ to pull its ‘gold-level’ sponsorship from the Petroleum Summit in early 2016. This was massive! This shift signaled and end to the social licence of the oil industry operating in Aotearoa, and since 2016 others followed suit and almost no non-industry organisations have sponsored this conference.

Protesters stand outside Westpac branch with banner which reads 'Westpac it's time to divest from fossil fuels'

After mass protests against ANZ for their fossil fuel investments, and an ongoing campaign calling for banks to adopt ethical investment policies, in 2017 TSB heard that customers were calling for fossil free banks, and became the first New Zealand bank to rule out fossil fuel investments (remember they still need to rule out lending too to be Fossil Free)!
TSB We do "expect more" commit to being fully fossil free!
Through coordinated actions in banks, letter campaigns, and many backroom meetings, together with our Australian colleagues, we pressured all four major Australian banks into ruling out funding the Adani coal project, the largest new coal mine in the world, and saw Westpac rule out funding new coal basins.

Protesters sit outside ANZ bank in Auckland

Now it’s time for a real New Zealand alternative to the bankrolling climate change.

Who will take the stand and lead the charge in fossil free finance in New Zealand, TSB, The Co-op or Kiwibank?

In solidarity,

Niamh O’Flynn