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May 02, 2013

Protect the Great Barrier Reef from Coal Exports

Great barrier reefThe Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia literally sits in the way of the fossil fuel industry and its massive expansion plans. Many new coal terminals are in the works -- and just one of them, Abbot Point, near Mackay, could increase almost ninefold in capacity to become by far the biggest in the world.

While campaigns in Australia to resist fossil fuel expansion in the reef have stepped up in recent days, the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Exim) and its chairman, Fred Hochberg, have been quietly using our taxpayer dollars to support these controversial projects. Specifically, Exim was behind the single-biggest loan to a fossil fuel export project in the Great Barrier Reef, the $2.8 billion credit to the Australia Pacific LNG project, which has become the subject of legal action over alleged breaches of the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

But our partners in Australia are not sitting idly by and allowing the fossil fuel industry to destroy the reef. Last week, a coal carrier bound for Korea was occupied by six Greenpeace activists, and a letter signed by 10,000 Australians supporting their action ran in the Australian Financial Review.

Then, over the weekend, a TV commercial featuring Bob Irwin (father of the late Steve Irwin, crocodile hunter) asked Queenslanders to "imagine if we lost the Great Barrier Reef," and described the impacts that the array of proposed new coal export ports would have on the reef. And now a new report from Market Forces and 350.org reveals the role that banks play. Financing Reef Destruction identifies which banks lent the most money to coal ports and liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area between 2008 and 2012.

The report draws attention to the role the "big four" Australian banks play in enabling new coal and gas projects to come online. Together, the biggest Australian banks –- ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, and Westpac –- lent $3.8 billion to coal ports and liquefied natural gas terminals between 2008 and 2012.

But when massive, controversial fossil fuel projects and huge sums of money meet, you can bet Fred Hochberg is involved. In addition to the Australia Pacific LNG project, Exim is also considering financing not one, but two massive coal projects that will ship coal through the Great Barrier Reef.

These projects aren't just bad for the reef, they are bad for business. This week, Carbon Tracker released a new report: Unburnable Carbon: Australia’s Carbon Bubble, that shows the rising cost of coal combined with the transition to a low-carbon economy makes Australia's coal industry ripe "for financial implosion."

In Australia, Market Forces and 350.org are working to mobilize customers of the banks, calling on people to give their bank an ultimatum -- either stop lending to new coal and gas projects and develop a policy to stop loans to dangerous projects in future, or the customer walks.

You can support efforts in Australia to save the reef by telling Exim Chairman Fred Hochberg it’s time to stop funding fossil fuel projects.

This post was written by Market Forces Lead Campaigner Julien Vincent and Sierra Club International Campaign Representative Nicole Ghio

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