HSBC, that household name in banking is in Birmingham today for its annual meeting. The biggest bank in Europe says it believes in “financing the transition to a low-carbon world” and “that people, communities and businesses all thrive more when they’re connected to something bigger”.
We agree: Which is why today we are protesting outside the HSBC AGM, because we are all connected to something bigger: stopping the climate crisis.
Outside the conference centre where the AGM is taking place there are 100’s of us, joining forces to demand that HSBC stops fuelling the climate crisis. And, we are not just outside the meeting in Birmingham. There are tens of thousands of school children across the UK that are on strike to demand urgent action on climate change.
The school strike movement started in August 2018 when Greta Thunberg decided not to go to school and sat with her painted sign and homemade flyers outside the Swedish parliament. Since then, every Friday across the globe many more of us have joined in. We were 1.6 million to go on school strike last month on March 15.
We strike, protesting to keep temperatures below 1.5C and to keep fossil fuels in the ground, because governments as well as banks keep on destroying us and our future. HSBC continues to finance new coal-fired power plants in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia. All three countries are on the front line of climate change and have significant renewable energy potential, a crucial tool to sustainable poverty eradication.
Members of the Bangladeshi diaspora that are taking part in the protests outside the HSBC AGM say that any fossil fuel projects financed by HSBC would have a devastating impact in one of the world’s most vulnerable areas to climate breakdown.
HSBC is currently leading a consortium of banks to finance the dredging of the Payra Port in the Bangladesh delta. The port is being expanded to allow larger ships to carry the Twenty million metric tonnes of coal that will be imported every year through the port to be used in the five coal power plants to be constructed in the area. These coal plants have also raised human rights concerns, notably around land being grabbed without compensation, and farming and fishing livelihoods – let alone the devastation that could be caused by damaging the Sundarbans. The Sundarbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest and a UNESCO world heritage site that conserves the mangrove ecosystem in Bangladesh.
The construction of any new coal power plant is inconceivable given the scientific findings of the UN´s Climate Science Panel. Every ton of coal burned makes an immediate contribution to the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere causing long term and irreversible climate change. HSBC does not just fund coal but also tar sands oil, arctic oil drilling and deepwater oil and gas exploration. In fact there’s only one reasonable thing to do: divest HSBC from all fossil fuels. Any other decision would be childish.
Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. As HSBC’s coal financing policy for Bangladesh will push it to more danger, we demand they do not invest in coal in Bangladesh and in the delta region. We do not need dirty coal energy.
Every year Bangladesh suffers from climate related disasters including floods, droughts and salinisation of freshwater supplies leading to the displacement of 100,000’s of people. There are over 40 million people living in highly vulnerable conditions on the banks of the Delta, and the Sundarbans provide a vital buffer zone against the frequent cyclones and storms that pound the Bangladeshi coast
The 10,000 km2 Sundarban mangrove forest in Bangladesh is itself home to around 500,000 people who are dependent on the mangroves for their livelihoods which include growing rice, fishing and tourism. Local protests against coal fired power plants have been met by brutal repression and activists on the ground say it is now difficult for them to campaign against the plants. In 2016 police acted as industrial security force and opened fire on a demonstration of 1500 unarmed people, killing 4 people and injuring 100’s more. People were protesting against two China-backed power plants at Bashkhali in Chittagong, a location in southeastern Bangladesh near Cox’s bazar port.
Three people were killed in a similar coal-shooting in 2006 in Phulbari in northwest Bangladesh. Coal-finance and coal-business does not only pollute environment and fuel climate crisis but also kill innocent and unarmed people when they protest or speak truth.
Currently Bangladesh produces very little of its electricity from coal and whilst many other countries in the world are looking to transitioning away from coal, banks like HSBC announce new investment into coal-trade in Bangladesh. This would fuel further violence in the country and the region. People are organising against fossil finance.
This movement had to happen, we didn’t have a choice. Many of the climate strikers taking action today aren’t allowed to vote. Imagine for a second what that feels like.
Now imagine what it’s like being from a community already facing the impacts of climate change, watching the potential uprooting of our livelihoods, from fishing to farming and knowing that there are big banks that are going to make all this much worse. Where the decisions are taken thousands of miles away in conferences like the one taking place in Birmingham today.
Wouldn’t you protest too, if you thought doing so could help protect your own future?
We have to go on strike today, because we don’t have a choice, in the same way that the organisations protesting outside the HSBC AGM today don’t have a choice. We’ve relied on adults to make the right decisions to ensure that there is a future, we’re asking grown-ups to follow our lead: we can’t wait any longer.
We may not have all of the answers but what we do know is that we need to keep coal, and all fossil fuels in the ground, phase out subsidies for dirty energy production and seriously invest in renewables.
Our world is on fire, we are demanding the transition to a fossil fuel free world now. This is about climate justice and a safe future for all.
This movement had to happen. And now, you adults have a choice, it could start today with HSBC divesting from fossil fuels.