Westpac and other ASX 200 banks face renewed shareholder pressure over climate policies

Activist group slams big four banks for being full of hot air on climate goals…

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The Westpac Banking Corp (ASX: WBC) share price is in the red on Friday. This comes as additional pressure is applied to the big four ASX 200 banks by climate activist group Market Forces.

At the time of writing, shares in $94 billion bank are down 0.3% to $25.93. For context, the S&P/ASX 200 Index (ASX: XJO) is 0.83% higher on Friday.

In its latest campaign, Market Forces has lodged new resolutions for the upcoming annual general meetings of Westpac, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd (ASX: ANZ), and National Australia Bank Ltd. (ASX: NAB). These resolutions seek to eliminate, or at least constrain, the expansion of fossil fuel lending among the ASX 200 banks.

Climate fight against Westpac and other ASX big banks heats up

Initiatives to tackles climate change at a boardroom level has become highly topical. Since the unveiling of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) damning report, a renewed thrust has come about to address the bellowing climate calamity in the room. One such group grabbing the big banks by the horns is Friends of the Earth affiliate, Market Forces.

Specifically, the resolutions lodged with ANZ, NAB, and ASX-listed Westpac call for an end to funding fossil fuel growth projects. This follows a year of increased lending to the coal, oil, and gas industry — despite the same banks committing to net zero emissions by 2050.

A report referenced by Market Forces, produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA), suggested the big four loaned as much as $8.9 billion to the fossil fuel industry in 2020. Remarkably, this represented an 18% increase in the amount loaned in 2019.

Inadvertently, Westpac and the other ASX big four constituents had enabled an additional 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 production. Hence, activist groups like Market Forces believe the bank’s commitments are meaningless without addressing its lending.

Furthermore, Market Forces warned that uncapped lending to fossil fuel companies will result in emissions equal to 146 times Australia’s annual carbon footprint.

What about CBA?

For Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA) shareholders, Market Forces announced tabled resolutions for the CBA annual general meeting back in August. At this stage, CBA is recommending shareholders vote against the resolution.

Commenting on the move, Australian campaigns coordinator Jack Bertolus stated:

Continued large-scale lending to fossil fuels is not only exposing these banks and their shareholders to increasing levels of climate risk, it’s also undermining our chances of getting the climate crisis under control.

Finally, according to the ASX, Westpac will hold its annual general meeting on 15 December 2021. Meanwhile, NAB will hold its AGM 2 days later on 17 December. To cap it off, ANZ will conduct its AGM in between these two on 16 December.

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