In July 2020, Kiwibank announced a policy that rules out any future lending or investment in fossil fuels. This makes them the first bank in New Zealand to commit to being Fossil Free, and the first bank in the world that has committed to withhold banking services from coal, oil and gas companies – they won’t even take fossil fuel companies on as customers!
It’s not every day that we win campaigns, especially when we’re taking on major corporations like our banks. I want to tell you the story of this campaign and take a moment to celebrate how everyday people like you and me built a movement to pull power and social licence away from the fossil fuel companies that are causing climate breakdown and violating human rights all over the world. I want to emphasise how significant this win really is.
Our people-powered community has played a vital role in exposing the relationships between banks in Aotearoa and the fossil fuel industry since 2015. In February 2015, we identified that campaigning against our banks was the most effective way that we could keep fossil fuels in the ground – by cutting off the finance that enables fossil fuel projects to go ahead. Our high street banks are very aware that climate change is the issue of our generation, and of growing concern to their customers. We made it our role at 350 Aotearoa to expose the relationship between our banks and the fossil fuel industry so that New Zealanders can demand that their banks stop funding the climate crisis.
From 2015 to 2017, we campaigned for our banks to divest from fossil fuels and had a number of victories that contributed to exposing how our banks were funding climate change, and forced major banks like ANZ and Westpac to rule out major relationships with fossil fuel companies like Adani. We also pushed TSB to announce an Ethical Investment Policy that rules out investing in fossil fuels (note that TSB is yet to rule out lending to coal, oil, and gas companies). From these campaigns, we learnt how strongly our banks want to be seen as socially responsible businesses playing their part to act on climate change, and that with enough social and political pressure – they will buckle and change their behaviour.
The latest science on climate change was really clear: immediate action was needed to limit warming to 1.5°C, and our world leaders and major corporations were not acting quickly enough to take bold climate action. And yet, by 2017, New Zealanders still didn’t have a banking option that had cut all corporate ties with the fossil fuel industry and committed to never use our savings to prop up coal, oil, and gas companies.
As part of a global community, we needed to do everything in our power to keep fossil fuels in the ground and build the power of our campaign to set a new standard in Aotearoa’s banking sector that rules out corporate ties with fossil fuels.
Here’s how people power secured Aotearoa’s first fossil free bank:
- In 2017, hundreds of us chipped in to commission a research project to deepen our understanding of the banks’ financing of fossil fuel activities in Aotearoa and internationally.
- In 2018, we released our report, ‘Bankrolling the Climate Crisis: Aotearoa’s financial ties to the fossil fuel industry’, which exposed that our major Australian-owned bank ANZ, CBA, NAB, and Westpac collectively loaned over AUD $21 billion to fossil fuel companies from 2015-2017. In this report, we also announced our plans to target our New Zealand-owned banks Kiwibank, The Cooperative Bank, and TSB, in a race to become New Zealand’s first fossil free bank.
- In December 2018, hundreds of us flooded the bank’s call centres demanding they release a fossil free policy. In response, Kiwibank let its customers know that it was working on a responsible banking policy.
- In May 2019, hundreds of us came together across Aotearoa to challenge our New Zealand-owned banks in the race to be the first Fossil Free bank in Aotearoa. Our local campaigners in Auckland, Kāpiti, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin organised amazing actions to bring the race between the banks to life.
- In June 2019, 7 months after Kiwibank had told customers it was working on a responsible banking policy, hundreds of us called, wrote to, and visited Kiwibank branches to remind them we were still waiting.
- In November 2019, we launched a campaign calling for the government to make our default Kiwisaver funds fossil free. Our banks and our Kiwisaver funds in Aotearoa are inextricably linked, so we knew if we were successful, we would be in our strongest place yet to push for our banks to commit to full divestment and drive a swift end to fossil fuel dominance in our society. We won this campaign in March 2020.
- In March 2020, our 350 groups hosted events to write bold and compelling letters to Kiwibank’s CEO, Steve Jurkovich, to let him know that in a time of climate crisis, inaction is unacceptable. We delivered over 300 letters and emails to Kiwibank’s CEO.
- Last week Kiwibank announced its policy, making it Aotearoa’s first fossil free bank! We won!
It has been an incredible journey to take on the major banks in New Zealand and Australia’s finance sector – and win. Over the past five years, we have created an unprecedented wave of urgent demands calling for our banks to take climate change seriously.
There is no way we could have won this campaign without our people-powered community. Our 350 Aotearoa community is not just our team of two staff. It is our committed volunteer campaigners in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, and Dunedin – who develop campaign strategies, hold regular meetings, plan creative actions at bank branches and persist even when campaign wins feel impossible. It is our generous supporters who chip in regularly or whenever they can to enable us to run training workshops, plan bold actions, and take on major targets like Kiwibank. It is all of you who have come along to events and actions across the country and participated in demonstrating the overwhelming support for our banks to take climate action. And it is each and every one of us who takes time to ring our banks or sign a petition, that adds to our strength in numbers.
Together we have used our collective power to push New Zealand’s first bank to commit to going Fossil Free. But there’s still work to be done to keep fossil fuels in the ground and to cut off the finance that enables coal, oil, and gas companies to keep digging. Our other major banks in Aotearoa – ANZ, ASB, BNZ, and Westpac – are playing a critical role in keeping the fossil fuel industry afloat by lending and investing billions of our savings in coal, oil and gas companies that have knowingly caused the climate crisis. We’ve successfully pushed Kiwibank to cut all ties with coal, oil, and gas companies, and commit to never do business with climate criminals. It’s time to demand our other banks do the same.
Let’s use our collective power to call on our banks to go fossil free!