They’re the institutions we trust to invest, grow and protect our money, ensuring a comfortable lifestyle and financially stable future once we exit the workforce. But exactly what kind of future are they safeguarding when you dig deeper into where banks are investing?
Many prominent financial institutions, including Australia’s big four banks, significantly support and fund the fossil fuel industry – a concerning (and infuriating) truth for those who care about climate change.
Julien Vincent, the founder of Market Forces, has spent the last seven years exposing the banks, superannuation funds and governments financing environmentally destructive projects while also empowering individuals to hold these institutions to account.
Vincent studied climatology at university before landing a climate and energy campaigning role with Greenpeace. “Activism was what it was all about,” Vincent says. “It was the dream job that put me in all sorts of uncomfortable positions, like climbing to the top of a coal power plant or talking to shock jocks.”
Towards the end of his time with Greenpeace, Vincent noticed an increasing number of campaigns were being won by stopping the flow of money. There was something powerful in that: successful activism through limiting the finances going into harmful projects.
With the support of Friends of the Earth, Vincent launched Market Forces in 2013, a service that highlights the important role the banks and super funds have in deciding whether a toxic or polluting project happens or not. Alongside organising and executing campaigns, Market Forces is a resource for individual decision-makers – like you and me – to take action. For example, if you’re worried your bank is involved in fossil fuel projects, you can visit the Market Forces website and use their Compare Bank Table to see which banks are funding fossil fuels and how much they have loaned since 2016.
If your bank’s funding doesn’t align with your environmental values, you can fill out a form to “put them on notice” or start the divestment process to switch to a new bank with no record of funding fossil fuels, like Bank Australia.
“Our website provides information and [education] in order to stimulate people to take action. In the same place you find that information, you can take action and tell your bank you want to change,” Vincent says. Part of Market Forces’ mission is to help individuals feel like they can be heard.
Market Forces’ impact in the last seven years has been exponential; the result of decisive campaigning efforts. “Getting Australia’s three big insurers to commit to backing out of thermal coal was a really big change,” Vincent says. “After targeting QBE, IAG and Suncorp for two years, they were all committed to withdrawing their financial support of thermal coal by 2030 or earlier.”
Securing a commitment from Commonwealth Bank to move away from thermal coal by 2030 was another important milestone. “The reason I fixate on that is because one of the markers set out in the Paris Agreement is for wealthy countries to be out of thermal coal by 2030. So to get a shift that actually lines up with what the Paris Agreement says was really important. And it also sets a precedent,” Vincent says. It’s a logical move for even the largest institutions. Any reluctance to transition away from coal, oil and gas projects is ultimately to the detriment of investors and businesses as they are relying on profits from a finite resource and a market that needs to be more environmentally progressive.
Looking ahead, Market Forces is dedicated to continuing conversations around what financial institutions are putting money into – particularly when their hands are getting dirty in the process. From a personal perspective, Vincent is motivated to make the maximum impact in his current role: “While I’m aware the task is enormous, and I’m mindful of the reality [of the challenge], I’m also intent on charging ahead towards as much success as possible.”