Financing Reef Destruction?
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Yes, you read that correctly. The Great Barrier Reef – home to endangered sea turtles, blue whales, sea snakes, and fragile coral reefs – is being destroyed in exchange for coal ports and LNG plants.
China, Australia, and the US Export Import Bank have placed financial bets on transforming the Great Barrier Reef into a noxious highway for coal exports to Asia. China Development Bank, China ExIm Bank, and Bank of China, along with the “Big 4” Australian banks, are financing the construction of a string of LNG plants and coal export terminals that are smack in the middle of the world famous reef. Industrialization along the coast, in addition to vessel pollution and potential spills, would critically degrade the world’s largest reef system, jeopardize the local economy, and worsen climate change.
In the study, the Australian NGO Market Forces details the role banks play in profiting off the reef’s destruction while the creatures and people of the Great Barrier Reef pay for it. The report comes at an interesting time when the BRICS countries – including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – have just announced their plans for a joint development bank. The BRICS countries are keen to position themselves as green minded leaders who pioneer sustainable development. However, the latest news of China’s role in financing the fossil fuel projects, as well as allegations of corruption among the Indian companies building them, reflect a double standard.
As I wrote in the South China Morning Post over the weekend:
“Despite the obvious cultural and environmental concerns of building dirty facilities in the reef, however, major Chinese banks, such as China Development Bank, the Export-Import Bank of China, and Bank of China have all approved financing for the projects.
In financing these projects, they are violating China’s own policies: first, they are running foul of the banking authorities’ green credit directive by failing to require its clients to adhere to international best practices in environmental safeguards. Second, they are violating the recently released guidelines on environmental protection in overseas investments by failing to protect the local environment.”
As the economic powerhouse behind BRICS, China is in a perfect position to lead by example and demonstrate its commitment to sustainable practices. Unfortunately, it has failed to step up to the challenge so far.
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Photo Courtesy of Australia Conservation Foundation