I just wrote to my bank asking it to divest

Today, I applied to join Kiwibank. Then, I wrote to BNZ – my current bank – saying that I would complete the switch to a new, fossil fuel free bank if they did not divest from fossil fuels.

Dear Mr Healy

I have been a BNZ customer for a decade now. I am a trustee and director of charitable and other entities that also bank with BNZ. I opened my first BNZ account as a teenager, down in the local Devonport branch, where my parents knew the staff and where some friends from school went to work when they turned 18.

However, I have also attended three of the last four UN climate conferences and recently completed my Masters in Law thesis (with First Class Honours) on climate law, I am very concerned about the impacts of climate change and the risk that investing in oil, gas and coal companies poses for my savings.

To keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius (the meeting point that scientists and policymakers agree we cannot exceed without facing climate change’s worst consequences, but that remains politically possible) we must leave 80% of existing known, owned fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

I have volunteered since university with charities that focus on youth issues. I have co-founded youth-focused charities with two Young New Zealanders of the year and direct a charitable company that educates primary school students. I care about my generation and the next.

At the climate talks and through my studies, I have worked closely with climate scientists and policymakers from all over the globe. Based on this experience, I believe it is no exaggeration to say that the move away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives is essential if our children are to inherit a planet in which they can thrive – or even just survive. Business as usual will lead us to a four degree warmer world this century, even in light of the commitments made leading up to this year’s crucial Paris summit and in last year’s ground-breaking US-China pact.

Thousands of customers in Australia, and now in New Zealand, have been leaving behind some of the major banks because of their heavy investments in the outdated and destructive fossil fuel sector. Like me, they understand the important role that institutions have in the protection of our planet, and choose to entrust their money to those who will not support irresponsible projects.

Today, I have applied for an account with one of New Zealand’s few locally-owned, fossil-fuel free banks. I can no longer accept the ethical compromise of working in my personal and professional lives to halt climate change, while letting my money quite literally fund the very industries that are causing the problem.

I would still like to stay with BNZ. My savings are with you. My insurance is through you. My credit card is with you. But for me to do that, I need to know you will divest from fossil fuels, and unequivocally rule out any future loans to coal and gas mining, transport and export projects.

As a customer for over a decade, I request that you make this commitment directly to me, as well as publicly. If you don’t, I will continue the process that I started today, and move my business to a fossil fuel free bank. In my board and consultancy roles, I will urge the charities and companies I work with to adopt ethical investment policies that rule out investment in fossil fuels.

Climate change is the defining struggle of my generation. Right now, as Ban Ki Moon has noted, ours are the first generations to see climate change’s effects – and the last generations who can stop climate catastrophe. This issue is important enough to me that I would move to a bank that will not use my money to profit from, or finance the expansion of the fossil fuel industry, climate change and environmental destruction – and that I will urge all the organisations I am involved in to do the same.

Thank you. I know that I am not the first customer to write a letter like this to you, and that I will not be the last.

Yours sincerely

David Tong

I did this in support of 350 Aotearoa’s Fossil Free Banks campaign, and based the letter on their template (thanks Niamh and all!).

Update: BNZ’s reply

Kudos to BNZ for replying within the day. However, their reply somehow did not convince me:

Hello David,

Thank you for your email regarding fossil fuels.  I work in the Corporate Affairs team and sustainability is one of the areas we are responsible for.
BNZ takes it’s responsibility towards the environment seriously and we appreciate the concerns you have raised in your email.
In terms of BNZ’s approach to fossil fuels, I wanted to share with you our current position:

  • BNZ does have customers involved in the oil and gas industry. Overall, this is a small part of our lending, less than two percent.
  • BNZ’s KiwiSaver funds also have oil and gas investments and these are fully disclosed on our website.
  • We believe the finance sector has an important role to play in the transition to a cleaner, low carbon way of life. BNZ, and the wider NAB Group, is committed to reducing our own carbon footprint, and keeping abreast of developments in the renewable energy space.
  • BNZ has a range of initiatives across the energy, agricultural and manufacturing sectors to support improved environmental outcomes.

I hope this information is useful to you. Thanks again for your email.

Kind regards

My reply

They replied promptly, so I did too:

Dear [X]

Thank you for your prompt reply. Although I understand that fossil fuels are a small portion of BNZ’s lending and I respect BNZ’s broader work towards greater sustainability, investing even two percent of BNZ’s very large portfolio in fossil fuels is deeply inconsistent with meaningful action to address climate change. If Market Forces‘ data is accurate, NAB has over AU$8 million invested in fossil fuels.

I strongly recommend that you review Carbon Tracker’s reports, which make it very clear that continued fossil fuel exploration is inconsistent with sustainability. It is great that NAB ruled out funding the Carmichael coal mine. However, continuing to fund fossil fuel exploration and extraction simply contributes to an ever growing carbon bubble, leading to an ever expanding financial risk in future – and contributing to an ultimately existential climate risk.

Any meaningful government action to achieve the two degree target adopted in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and adopted by the UNFCCC in 2010 is inconsistent with the continued profitability of fossil fuel extraction. Consequently, investing in oil and coal is both financially risky and ethically unsound.

Ultimately, I agree that the financial sector has a crucial role to play in the necessary transition to a zero (not merely low; to stabilise mean warming at two degrees or below, we will now need zero if not net negative carbon equivalent emissions by the second half of this century) carbon way of life. One essential part of that crucial role is by shifting investments away from fossil fuels.

For these reasons, I urge BNZ (and NAB more broadly) to reconsider its fossil fuel investments. Without such reconsideration, I will have no option but to continue moving my accounts elsewhere – and urging charities and companies that I am involved with to adopt ethical investment policies that require them do so the same.

Best regards

David

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