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Westpac customers switch to cleaner banks

Westpac customers switch to cleaner banks in face of coal financing

Scores of Westpac customers across New Zealand will be closing their accounts in the next few days, in response to the bank’s continued financing of Bathurst Resources, enabling their planned new coal mine on the Denniston Plateau.

Around 160 customers will be at Westpac branches in Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch, Auckland, Tauranga, Nelson and other towns over the next three days (details below), cutting up their Eftpos cards and switching to banks that don’t finance the fossil fuel industry, as part of a campaign organised by 350 Aotearoa and Coal Action Network Aotearoa.

“Today is a victory for the climate, as customers are saying we’ve got a responsibility and a choice to look at what our money is funding, and we won’t keep financing Denniston or financing climate change,” said 350 Aotearoa spokesperson Ashlee Gross, who is switching her mortgage and bank accounts.

“Globally, coal, oil and gas companies’ business plans would mean digging up five times the fossil fuel reserves that we can afford to keep global warming to 2 degrees C. It’s very clear that continuing to finance Bathurst’s expansion plans means financing unsafe levels of climate change.”

Westpac markets itself as a bank that does business sustainably, but financing a company intent on contributing to climate change, at a time when the world’s scientists are telling us that nobody will be immune from the impacts, is the very definition of unsustainable.

“It’s clear that without Westpac’s loan, Bathurst would find it very difficult to start mining at all. But rather than respond to our concerns, Westpac has so far tried to deny responsibility. It’s time Westpac started walking its sustainability talk,” said Jeanette Fitzsimons of Coal Action Network Aotearoa.

A divestment movement is spreading rapidly around the world, with institutions including banks, universities and churches taking their money out of fossil fuels. To live up to its own sustainability promises, Westpac needs to do the same.

Westpac is financing Bathurst with $5 million in loans, as well as an overdraft facility. Current coal prices are too low for Bathurst to make a profit on the new mine, so they’re delaying bringing the mine up to full capacity, and waiting until the price of coal rises before they start exporting (note: unlikely in 2014, according to analysts).

The details of Westpac’s investments in Bathurst can be found here.
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