Banking giant under fire for alleged international law breaches

Banking giant under fire for alleged international law breaches

30 January 2020 By Grace Ormsby
Coal mining

An international law claim has been launched against a big four bank in an attempt to hold the financial institution accountable for its financing of fossil fuel projects that contribute to the climate crisis.

Australian bushfire victims are joining with Friends of the Earth Australia to launch the complaint under international legal standards, which was delivered to ANZ’s Melbourne headquarters at 10am Thursday morning.

According to a statement from Friends of the Earth, the official complaint against the bank is being brought under the guidelines of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The complaint alleges that ANZ has failed to “meaningfully adhere to the Paris Agreement reduction targets across its lending portfolio”.


Citing the bank’s positioning as Australia’s largest financier of fossil fuel industries, the complaint also alleges the bank’s failure to disclose the full extent of its lending emissions is a breach of the guidelines.

Friends of the Earth has also flagged ANZ’s December 2019 failure to act on the climate emergency at the annual AGM, noting: “the board successfully opposed a shareholder revolt to bring the bank’s investments in line with the Paris climate agreement which received a substantial 15 per cent of the votes”.

The complaint has been submitted to the Australian government’s OECD National Contact Point (NCP), which is responsible for hearing complaints of corporate wrongdoing under the OECD guidelines.

According to Friends of the Earth, the complaint demands the bank “disclose its high-risk greenhouse gas emissions, including indirect emissions resulting from its business lending and investment portfolio”.

It also calls for the bank to “publish ambitious, concrete, and measurable targets to lower its indirect greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius”.


The complaint submits that for ANZ to meet Paris Agreement targets, it requires its divestment from fossil fuel industries, including a bank-wide ban on financing new coal-fired power plants.

The statement reported that since the 2015 Paris Agreement alone, “ANZ has lent $8.76 billion to the fossil fuel sector and expansionary projects, enabling the emission of 2.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide”.

It also claimed the big four bank’s investment in coal has increased 34 per cent over the last two years and is the largest fossil fuel financier of the big four Australia banks.

A co-complainant in the case, Jack Egan, said he had joined the climate case so “we don’t have to go through these disastrous or worse fires every year”.

“We are not seeking damages or compensation from ANZ, I just want them to stop fueling dangerous climate change,” he continued.

Friends of the Earth legal officer Emila Nazari said “Australia is burning and yet ANZ continues to invest billions of dollars in climate-wrecking projects.”

“It is illegal for someone to light a bushfire, and we believe it is illegal for companies to finance the burning of our common home,” she commented, calling the case “one of many to come against climate criminals”.

The legal action being taken against the bank comes under three categories: 

  • non-disclosure of scope 3 (including lending) emissions throughout ANZ sustainability reports and climate change disclosures;
  • inadequate systems of due diligence and environmental management due to ANZ’s continued investment in fossil fuels, and lack of policies to reduce investment in major fossil fuel industries such as coal, oil and has; and
  • misleading the public and consumers by publicly supporting the Paris Agreement targets, while continuing to invest in projects that undermine the meeting of those targets. 

Friends of the Earth said the complaint was inspired by a successful complaint brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Oxfam and Greenpeace against ING bank before the Dutch NCP.

That complaint was brought under the same rules that will be applied in this case.

As a result, ING committed to measuring and disclosing its own indirect carbon emissions, and began steering its lending portfolio towards alignment with the Paris Agreement’s “well-below” 2 degrees goal.

Friends of the Earth believes that case will “set a strong precedent for a similar outcome against ANZ here in Australia”.

According to reports, the complaint has received support from groups on the frontline of climate change. 

Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) chief executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan has expressed support for the case “because fossil fuel projects financed by international banks like ANZ often have more emissions than Bangladesh, yet it is our people who are suffering from the flooding and famine caused by climate change”.

Banking giant under fire for alleged international law breaches
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