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If you’re Australian, chances are your bank and super fund are helping make climate change worse – here’s how to find out

Jack Derwin
  • When it comes to climate action, it's easy to feel ineffective as an individual. However, one of the easiest one-off actions we can do is to put our money where our mouth is and ensure we're not directly funding climate-wrecking industries.
  • Checking who you bank with and where your superannuation fund sends your money are the two easiest ways you can act on climate change.
  • It's simple. Just check if your bank and super fund are financing the fossil fuel industry. If they are, move your money somewhere it's going to do some good instead. Check the Market Forces website for more information.

Climate change. If you plan on sticking around on this planet a while, then you're right to be seriously concerned about it.

You certainly wouldn't be alone. The vast majority of Australians are concerned it's going to lead to more droughts, floods, and water shortages, according to the latest survey by The Australian Institute.

READ MORE: Why we're walking off the job to protest climate change – and why you should too

While it's great that Australians are switched on to the threat climate change poses, it doesn't do a whole lot of good unless you act on it as well, according to former Greenpeace campaigner Julien Vincent. He left Greenpeace to start Market Forces, an organisation that aims to hold Australia's financial institutions to account on the environment.

"Most Australians want to see action taken on climate change. But the vast majority are unaware that the custodians of our money, companies like banks and superannuation funds, almost exclusively invest in coal, oil and gas and highly polluting companies," Vincent told Business Insider Australia.

Given it's mandatory for every worker in the country to have a superannuation account, it's especially incumbent on Australians to know where their money is going.

"By demanding our retirement savings are kept out of companies that are pushing us towards runaway climate change, or moving to a bank that won't help the expansion of industries like coal, oil and gas, there is phenomenal potential to decarbonise the economy and push finance investment from polluting industries to their clean replacements," Vincent said.

"We still need governments to act but it's great to know that we're not limited by that, and can pursue change through our wallets, bank accounts, insurance and super funds."

With that in mind, this is what you should know to avoid funding the further destruction of this planet.

The big banks have a terrible environmental track record

Given their size, it's no surprise most Australians count themselves as a customer of one of the big four banks -- ANZ, Westpac, NAB and the Commonwealth Bank.

If your money is with one of them and you care about the environment, however, you find yourself in a bit of a bind.

All four have publicly championed the Paris Agreement to limit global warming well below a 2-degree Celsius rise. That would be great except that in the three years since, they've collectively loaned $21 billion to the coal, oil and gas industry. What's worse is that the loan value to new fossil fuel projects has actually increased by 50% over that same period.

In essence, they've all failed to live up to their commitments. Here's how they compare.

Don't forget either that all four own other banks that go by different names. Westpac owns the Bank of Melbourne, BankSA, RAMS, and St George, while the Commonwealth Bank owns BankWest and NAB owns UBank. If you're with any of those, your money is with them anyway, just under a different business name.

Other large banks aren't much better. ING, AMP, Citi, HSBC, Bank of China, and Macquarie have also all loaned hundreds of millions of dollars or more to the fossil fuel industry.

The Bank of Queensland is the best of all the large banks on this record. Since 2008, it's only lent $32 million to coal mining. More importantly, it's since announced plans to reduce coal lending to zero by 2023 and has stated publicly that it "has no exposure to coal-fired power generators and has no appetite for lending to this sector."

Suncorp Bank is another example. It ceased lending in 2009 and currently has no exposure to any fossil fuel companies via its banking activities. It does, however, have some exposure via its insurance arm.

Those two changes alone demonstrate that financial institutions are receptive to customers and activists who make their voices heard.

Find a bank that isn't wrecking the planet

Whether it's a savings account, credit card, loan or mortgage you might have, every dollar is a vote of support for the institution you choose. It's just a matter of choosing wisely.

While all of the names to avoid above seem like an extensive list, they're really just the tip of the oil-slicked iceberg.

To name every bank individually that isn't directly profiting from the fossil fuel industry would take far too long. Some of the biggest names on the good list include ME Bank, Adelaide and Bendigo Bank, Quodos Bank, Rabobank, and Southern Cross Credit Union. They are just some of the bigger names however, with a whole tranche of other institutions to pick from.

See the full list here on Market Forces website.

Superannuation funds are a lot less transparent

Despite the fact that we all have to stash our money with one, super funds are notoriously difficult to understand exactly where they then put that money. That's because many largely don't disclose their exact exposure to polluting sectors, which is a bit concerning considering they control up to $3 trillion of our retirement money.

That doesn't mean you can't get a clear idea of exactly where those dollars are invested.

Again, Market Forces have a comprehensive list of each and every fund and what they can tell about them, from whether they exclude fossil fuels from their investments, their track record on voting on climate change and even if they've considered how global warming will affect your money.

While it's difficult to distil a list of exactly who ranks where, it's clear there are sustainable alternatives out there for you to choose.

Again, go to the full list, see how yours adds up and consider switching if it's got a poor rating.

Give your institutions a piece of your mind

While the most important thing is to move your money to organisations that are going to use it responsibly, you can do more besides.

It's worth contacting your own organisation and telling them why you're leaving or why you think it should do better on climate change.

It does make a difference and groups like Market Forces have templates and campaigns if you do want to get involved in activism.

If you have insurance, you can also check the impact of that fund here.

You can make a difference

When it comes to climate change and other big global issues, it's easy to think you can't make an impact.

If you're young, lacking money, or influence, it's reasonable to ask, 'what difference is a few thousand bucks really going to make to multi-billion dollar businesses?'

The answer is that it all adds up and like with anything, it reaches a tipping point. If just those who read this article were to make a switch, millions of dollars would flow out of projects that are currently doing harm. That sends a clear message as to where the money is going, and businesses, by nature, will always follow the money.