Chief executive Brian Hartzer told the Westpac’s annual general meeting in Sydney that Australia’s oldest bank fully backed the UN’s climate talks in Paris.
However, chairman Lindsay Maxsted said that didn’t automatically rule out any sector for investment despite objections from some shareholders.
He said the banks would support coal companies, provided they fitted into the company’s investment criteria.
Questioned by shareholders including Australian Geographic Society’s Young Conservationist of the Year Amelia Telford, Maxsted said coal companies needed to show they were taking steps to reduce their environmental impact to secure Westpac finance, but ruled out a blanket ban.
Protesters were also outside the meeting calling for the bank to rule out financing Adani’s Galilee Basin coal projects.
Rival, National Australia Bank has already ruled out funding Adanis’ controversial Carmichael coal mine in Queensland.
Westpac already has the least exposure to fossil fuel projects of Australia’s big four banks, loaning $5.9 billion across 59 fossil fuel deals since 2008, compared to leader ANZ’s $12.6 billion across 99 deals, according to figures compiled by Market Forces.
Maxsted said 61 per cent of Westpac’s energy lending went toward renewables but would not give a timetable for a move away from fossil fuel investments.
Nonetheless, Hartzer told shareholders that Westpac is committed to operating, both directly and indirectly, in a manner consistent with supporting an economy that limits global warming to less than two degrees.
Negotiators in Paris are currently thrashing out the final details of a global agreement that aims to cut emissions with the aim of limiting global warming to the UN’s 2010 target of two degrees Celsius, or lower.