* Anti-coal groups target Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Societe
* UNESCO concerns on Great Barrier Reef deter Deutsche Bank
* HSBC says would be unlikely to fund project
(Adds comments from HSBC)
By Sonali Paul
MELBOURNE, May 23 Germany's largest bank,
Deutsche Bank AG, has declared it will not finance a
controversial coal port expansion in Australia near the Great
Barrier Reef, responding to calls from environmental groups and
HSBC, Europe's biggest bank, also signalled on Friday it
would be unlikely to finance the project.
Deutsche Bank's stand marks a win for those opposed to $26
billion worth of coal projects that plan to use the Abbot Point
port, already facing delays due to weak coal prices.
But one company involved said the bank's position made no
difference. "This doesn't impact our proposed projects in any
way," Indian firm GVK Hancock spokesman Josh Euler said.
Green groups and marine operators fighting to protect the
World Heritage-listed reef took their campaign to Europe this
week, urging Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale and HSBC not to
back the Queensland coal projects.
They want to stop a government-approved expansion of Abbot
Point that would involve dumping 3 million cubic metres of
dredged soil about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the Great
Barrier Reef, an issue that is also of concern for UNESCO's
World Heritage committee.
Campaigners against the Abbot Point expansion failed to win
support from Societe Generale on Tuesday, according to their web
site, but were successful at Deutsche Bank's annual meeting on
"As we have seen, there is currently no consensus between
UNESCO and the Australian government regarding the expansion of
Abbot Point in the vicinity of the Great Barrier Reef. Our
policy requires such a consensus at the least," Deutsche Bank
co-chief executive Juergen Fitschen said at the annual meeting.
"We therefore would not consider applications for the
financing of an expansion any further," he said.
Deutsche Bank was targeted because it helped refinance the
lease on Abbot Point.
HSBC's Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver said his bank had not
received any proposals to finance the project and would need to
consider it if one were made, but added it would appear to fall
foul of its commitment to the Equator Principles - a framework
adopted by banks to determine whether to lend on projects where
there is environmental and social risk - and UNESCO's position.
"If you look at what we set out in terms of the Equator
Principles and if UNESCO's stance is as you say, I think it
would be extraordinarily unlikely that we would go anywhere near
it," he said when asked at HSBC's annual shareholder meeting on
Friday to make a commitment not to fund the project.
Greenpeace said Australia's big four banks, which it is
pressing to cut funding to the coal industry, should take note.
The operator of Abbot Point, North Queensland Bulk Ports
Corp, defended the port plan saying there is "rigorous
scientific evidence" to support an environmentally sustainable
expansion of the port and criticised the anti-coal campaign.
"This is one of the strategies that these groups and
individuals are employing, that is to increase investor risk
through creating uncertainty and a heightened perception of
risks over coal investments," NQBP spokeswoman Mary Steele said.
The port expansion would be needed to export coal from
massive new mines planned by Indian firms Adani Enterprises
and GVK, which is working with Australian billionaire
Gina Rinehart. Adani had no immediate comment.
(Additional reporting by Steve Slater in London; Editing by
Richard Pullin, Tom Hogue and Mark Potter)