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Aussie banks respond after being linked to koala habitat destruction

NAB, Rabobank CBA, ANZ, Suncorp and Westpac were singled out in the new report.

Background - land clearing for development. Foreground - Westpac, NAB, CBA and ANZ bank cards.
Australia's banks have been linked to habitat loss in Queensland. (Source: Supplied/Getty)

Australia’s major banks have responded after being linked to the destruction of habitat that was home to koalas and greater gliders.

NAB, Rabobank, CBA, ANZ, Suncorp and Westpac were singled out in a report by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) as having the greatest exposure to potential illegal deforestation in Queensland. It warned the banks' lending choices could be exposing their investors to credit risk and reputational damage.

ACF's Nathaniel Pelle said the findings also raised questions about the credibility of the banks' net zero commitments because none of them had “no deforestation” targets. This follows a warning that Queensland's "alarming" rate of deforestation has the potential to upend Australia's net zero commitments.

Pelle called on the institutions to insist on stricter lending conditions when financing property developments and agriculture businesses.

“By lending to agribusinesses without any conditions relating to deforestation, banks are effectively financing the destruction of habitat for threatened species like the koala, which had 200,000 hectares of habitat destroyed in this last reporting period,” he said.

“Banks should do due diligence before lending, set ‘no deforestation’ targets and attach relevant conditions to their loans to agribusinesses and property developers.”

How did the banks respond?

Yahoo contacted the six banks singled out in the report on Friday. ANZ and CBA both declined to comment, while Westpac did not respond.

A koala and her joey on a log.
ANZ and CBA both declined to comment and Westpac did not respond. (Source: Getty)

NAB issued a preliminary response, saying it already had 2030 emissions-reduction targets for its portfolios, which include power generation, thermal coal, oil and gas, and cement. By May 2024, it plans to set sector-level targets for its other carbon-intensive sectors including agriculture.

“We recognise the important role we can play in supporting the protection of biodiversity and natural capital and we have numerous projects and partnerships underway to support this,” a NAB spokesperson said in a statement.

Suncorp Bank issued a statement, saying it remained “committed to the transition to net zero”.

“We recognise the impact of land use change and know that gaining an understanding of the role land clearing and deforestation plays for our portfolio will be important in meeting our commitments. We will continue to work closely with our customers and partners on a transition approach,” it said.

Rabobank told the SMH it was committed to environmental sustainability.

What animals have been impacted by land clearing?

A chart showing banks' potential risk exposure to deforestation.
Bank exposure to potentially illegal deforestation in Queensland, 2018-2020. (Source: ACF)

How have the banks been linked to deforestation?

ACF analysed the latest satellite data from Queensland and concluded that threatened species and ecological communities were significantly impacted by the clearing of 364,000 hectares of native vegetation between 2018 and 2020.

Because the works were undertaken without federal approval, ACF questioned whether it was all legal.

  • ACF raised concerns about clearing on 4,442 properties

  • It found 50 per cent of clearing occurred on 267 properties

  • 60 per cent of those were linked to an Australian bank via mortgage or security.

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