Anti-CSG group Lock the Tweed is the latest organisation to support the call for the big four banks and superannuation funds to divest themselves of investment in fossil fuel production and infrastructure.
Research conducted earlier this year by Market Forces and the Australia Institute showed that almost 25 per cent of people with money invested in superannuation would be prepared to switch super funds if their fund continued to invest in coal and coal seam gas (CSG).
The research paper, titled Time to get engaged with super?, found that Australian households hold nearly $1 trillion in institutional superannuation funds but few, if any, pay close attention to how the companies they own are behaving or how their super fund is voting at shareholder meetings on their behalf.
The researchers found that 40 per cent of all people surveyed wanted their investments to go to companies that behaved ethically as well as providing a financial return. This compared to 36 per cent who were only interested in the financial return and 23 per cent who were unsure.
Women were more likely than men to have ethical concerns (43 per cent to 38 per cent).
Across the age groups, those over 65 were the most concerned about ethical investing (46 per cent) and 25–34 year-olds were the least (34 per cent.)
Lock the Tweed spokesperson Michael McNamara told Echonetdaily, ‘investors believe that ethical concerns, not just monetary gain, should be taken into account when investing their hard earned super funds.’
‘In dollar terms this means that there are hundreds of billions of dollars looking for an ethical investment home.
‘This reflects the strong community concerns about the long-term impacts of these industries on the environment, existing industries, our health and our water.’
Role of banks
Mr McNamara pointed out that a number of local councils are instructing their staff to move their investment portfolios away from unsustainable industries.
‘For a local council to go down this road sends a strong message to the banks and other investment bodies that the issue is a serious one,’ he said.
But he added that ‘billions of dollars have been lent by Westpac, ANZ, NAB and the Commonwealth banks to companies behind coal and coal seam gas developments’.
‘This includes $6.5 billion since 2008 for coal and gas ports along the Queensland coast that will impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
‘This increasing development of coal and CSG facilities along the Queensland coast has put the Great Barrier Reef’s World Heritage listing at risk.’
Market Forces has now launched an open letter targeting the big four banks and asking them to place an immediate prohibition on loans to new fossil fuel extraction projects and the infrastructure required to enable them: and sell down all stakes held either directly or through third parties in companies engaged in fossil-fuel extraction.
The letter has been signed by famous Australians including: authors Bill McKibben, Peter Carey and Kate Grenville; former politicians Carmen Lawrence, Bob Brown and Cheryl Kernot; musicians Clare Bowditch, Paul Dempsey (Something for Kate) and Mark Seymour; and academics Peter Singer, Gary Egger (Southern Cross University) and Peter Christoff. More than 2,000 members of the general public and it is still open for people to sign.
The letter reads, ‘Australia stands on the verge of a fossil-fuel expansion that would jeopardise the possibility of containing global warming to below 2?C above pre-industrial levels – a key marker for the prospects of a safe climate for future generations to enjoy’.
‘As Australia’s four largest banks and heaviest lenders to coal and gas projects, you have a vital role in determining the fate of proposed new fossil fuel projects. You will be met with requests to provide finance and other forms of investment for these projects. For the sake of a safe climate, these requests must be denied.’
Mr McNamara urged people to take the matter up with their banks and insurance companies and consider moving their funds to an institution that invests ethically.
One, but by no means the only, super fund targeting ethical investments is Australian Ethical.
The company says on its website that it includes both positive and negative screens when selecting the companies it invests in.
The negative screen ensures its funds don’t hold shares in tobacco, uranium or coal mining, exploitation of people or old-growth forest logging.
The positive screen uses funds’ money to ‘help build a new low-carbon economy, fund medical breakthroughs, technology breakthroughs, efficient transport and more’.
The company says it uses its influence ‘to engage with the management of companies over ethical issues, with the goal of improving their ethical behaviour’.