Commonweath Bank
Australia's Commonwealth Bank logo is pictured at a branch in Sydney, August 2, 2014. Reuters/David Gray

The four largest banks of Australia invested more in global fossil fuel projects than in renewable energy in 2016, according to finance group Market Forces. Investment in fossil fuels – $10 billion cumulatively to expand non-renewable energy – outpaces that of clean energy by as much as three times.

ANZ and the Commonwealth Bank invested more than $3 billion in fossil fuels last year. A large difference was seen in the case of ANZ, which contributed $225 million to renewable energy. Commonwealth Bank invested $846 million to non-renewables, around 3.5 times less than what it did on renewables.

In contrast, NAB, which invested $1.35 billion to expanding non-renewable energy, spent marginally lesser, $1.3 billion, on renewables. Westpac invested $426 million in clean energy, comparatively lesser than fossil fuels.

The four banks had agreed to support a deal to keep the global warming limit under 2 degrees Celsius, as was discussed in the Paris Climate agreement. “The first step to back up that commitment is to stop expanding the carbon fuel economy,” Julien Vincent, the executive director of Market Forces, said. “We’re not talking small projects, we’re talking about opening up one of the largest offshore oil bases in Norway, or a new gas field in PNG.”

Greenpeace said investment in fossil fuels would hurt Commonwealth Bank’s credibility. The environmental organisation said the bank, which had pledged to support the Paris Agreement’s goal, has invested more in non-renewable projects that any other bank in Australia.

“The Commonwealth Bank knows it has one of the most recognisable brands in Australia, it also knows that most Australians support stronger action on climate change,” Greenpeace’s climate campaigner, Nikola Casule, said. “[Chief executive] Ian Narev ... needs to decide whether he wants that brand associated with dirty coal or a future powered by clean renewable energy.”

Nevertheless, there was less spending on fossil fuel projects in 2016 than in 2015. According to Vincent, this marks an “important trend.” He also urged the banks to put blanket bans on investing in new coalmines. “I think it’s definitely become a lot harder for banks to fund coal because it’s so clearly connected to climate change and other environmental and social issues,” Vincent said.