Nemo waited at the edge of the City2Surf starting line, desperate to save the Great Barrier Reef. Instead of a fish tank of friends, Nemo was accompanied by almost 40 Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) volunteers calling on Westpac to pre-emptively declare it will not fund the Abbot Point-X coal port expansion in the Great Barrier Reef.
“Nemo’s got nowhere else to run if the Great Barrier Reef is destroyed,” said Ella Weisbrot, NSW Co-Coordinator of AYCC. So, armed with flyers, 1,500 stickers and a large banner, the environmentalists spoke to thousands of people about the dangers facing the reef, collected 5,000 open letter signatures and even made a brief appearance on Sunrise.
Despite having their banner confiscated by security, the response they got was overwhelmingly supportive. “Australians just think it’s madness to risk something as special and as a beautiful as the Great Barrier Reef,” Ms Weisbrot said.
In addition to the City2Surf, which was sponsored by Westpac, AYCC volunteers have been visiting Westpac headquarters regularly and meeting with 275 branch managers across the east coast states. They have received support from many staff members with 100 branch managers committing to raise an internal question over Westpac’s stance on the AP-X project funding.
With international banks like Deutsche Bank, HSBC, RBS, Barclays and Credit Agricole all declaring their refusal to fund the project, the AYCC is hoping Australia’s big four banks will follow the same path. Early this year, Westpac was crowned the most sustainable company in the world; it is this company culture that AYCC is appealing to. “It’s in no way a smear campaign,” Ms Weisbrot said. “We’re really calling on Westpac to live up to their excellent sustainability reputation and be the first Australian bank to publicly make the declaration that they won’t fund coal ports on the reef.”
In February, the young activists claimed a huge victory when major property developer, Lend Lease, withdrew its bid from the AP-X expansion after a six-month AYCC campaign. This, along with earlier withdrawals from BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, has left GVK Reddy and Gautam Adani as the last remaining major developers of the AP-X port.
Adani’s $16 billion Carmichael coal project in the Galilee Basin has already been rife with difficulties due to falling coal prices, lack of funding and the controversy surrounding plans to dredge three million cubic metres of sediment into the Great Barrier Reef. AYCC’s current appeal to Australian banks is a further attempt to block funding from a project that threatens to destroy the reef for future generations.
Ms Weisbrot said it would be “irresponsible” to sit back and hope companies will boycott the AP-X project without public pressure. “As young people, our future is really important to us so we really need to make sure that it’s at the forefront of the minds of decision-makers because nobody else is making that point for us right now.”