Westpac recently emailed a response to some of the many people who have been calling on them to remove their financial support from Bathurst Resources Ltd. They delegated the South Island Regional Manager, Gina Dellabarca, to make this response.
Unfortunately, the response calls further into question the truth behind Westpac’s own policies and commitments. In fact, our concerns around Westpac funding Bathurst Resources’ planned Denniston open cast mine, which, along with their other mines planned for the area, would release at least 218 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, have not been addressed at all.
Here is the response:
As Regional Manager, South Island, I have been asked to reply to your letter dated 15 October 2013 to our CEO regarding Bathurst Resources.
Thank you for contacting us with your concerns. I want to confirm as an organisation, we are committed to a lower carbon economy. As a society, this will take some time and Westpac takes its responsibility as a large corporate seriously, balancing the needs of the community in terms of economic growth, jobs, incomes and sustainable prosperity.
Westpac recognises that the transformation of the energy sector over the coming years will present a range of challenges. To achieve that, we believe a balanced approach is required and we will continue to work with all of our customers to help make this transition happen.
Gina says Westpac is committed to a lower carbon economy, and that they take their responsibility as a large corporate seriously. They also claim on their website that “we’ve put sustainability at the heart of our culture” …“our commitment to the environment covers our own operations as well as the impact of their products and services”.
That sounds good. But having a commitment implies that your actions align with it. Gina’s answer doesn’t address how Westpac financing a new open cast coal mine, the biggest new threat to climate change in New Zealand, can possibly be consistent with this commitment.
Gina says that the transition to a lower carbon economy will take time. The IPCC says emissions need to peak before 2020. The carbon budget shows that to stay within 2 degrees of warming 80% of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. This means that coal has be phased out by 2030. That’s a big enough challenge only taking into account existing coal mines.
It will certainly take a lot more time, time we don’t have, if banks continue financing new destructive fossil fuel projects. As the Unburnable Carbon report shows, it’s in banks’ own financial interest to stop.
Gina seeks to justify Westpac ignoring their own policies by using a familiar and tired argument of having to balance ‘economic growth, jobs, incomes and sustainable prosperity’. This argument doesn’t add up. As Gina will know, recent events on the West Coast have proven the unsustainable, boom and bust nature of the coal industry. More than 500 layoffs occurred as a result of the decline of the price of coal. Even Don Elder, previous CEO of Solid Energy, has acknowledged publicly that coal mining is a sunset industry.
So why does Westpac feel it needs to ‘balance’, or rather ditch, its own commitments to act on climate change for an industry which provides unsustainable job security and has, at best, a shaky financial case? If Westpac was truly committed to acting for future generations, it should be divesting from coal and other fossil fuels and putting that investment into the renewable sector.
Climate change brings with it rising sea levels, drowning coastal cities, food and water shortages, extreme weather events with much loss of life and threats to human health, and the displacement of millions of refugees. Commitments and policies such as the ones Westpac boasts are a bare minimum of what we should we demand of large corporations. How long will Westpac make a mockery of its own commitment by continuing to invest in fossil fuels?
The joint Coal Action Network Aotearoa/350 Aotearoa campaign to get Westpac to dump Bathurst Resources’ destructive and climate changing Denniston coal mine is growing stronger, with many activities planned around the country in the coming weeks. Make sure you send your letter to Westpac at www.westpacdumpcoal.org.nz.
The question for Westpac remains; Are your policies all greenwash, or will you walk the talk and stop funding climate destruction?