[Press release]

  • Nedbank, Standard Bank and Absa/ Barclays accused of cynical greenwashing, with billions of Rand of declared finance for mines, power stations and related infrastructure that harm communities and damage the environment
  • 2014 on track to be record year for CO2 emissions, with increased climate impacts such as drought and flooding already impacting hard on people across Africa

JOHANNESBURG: Climate change movement 350Afrca.org today launched its Fossil Free Africa campaign, with a call on ‘dirty banks’ to fully disclose their fossil fuel investments and commit to stop financing future mining, refinery and power station projects in South Africa and across Africa.

Activists protested today outside the headquarters of Nedbank in Sandton, Johannesburg citing the hypocrisy of the bank in calling itself ‘the only green bank’ whilst having invested over R970m in African fossil fuel projects.

2014 is on track to be a record year for global CO2 emissions[1] yet global commercial banks investments in coal have continued to increase.  This follows a record year for coal finance in 2013, with banks globally providing more than R880 billion ($88 billion) to the main 65 coal companies, over four times the amount provided in 2005.[2]

South African banks are playing a crucial role in financing Africa’s growing addiction to fossil fuels, the biggest emitters of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions that drive global climate change. Despite various corporate sustainability claims, figures from the recent annual reports of Nedbank, Standard Bank and Absa / Barclays show a combined R10 billion of direct financing for coal projects between 2005 and 2013 which contributed to combined annual profits of over R32 billion in the 2013 financial year.

Leading the protest Ferrial Adam of 350Africa.org said “dirty South African banks are financing billions of Rand of fossil fuel projects across Africa, whilst claiming to be environmentally friendly in a cycnical greenwash attempt.

“So today we are starting with Nedbank because how can you call yourself ‘the only green bank’ and then finance nearly R1bn of coal projects? Nedbank and others must come clean, disclose all their fossil fuel investments and commit to stop any future financing. We are saying ‘no more greenwash step up and play your part in creating a Fossil Free Africa’.”

Communities across South Africa, including in locations around Witbank and Springs, have been paying this real cost of coal for decades. Extracting and then burning coal uses and pollutes huge amounts of scarce water and creates poor air quality, both of which impact on the health of the communities who have to live near mines and power stations.

Globally, 80% of all known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground if global average temperatures are to be kept to a 2 degrees future rise. Even at 2 degrees climate scientists predict that the impacts will fall hardest on Africa and with temperatures already rising, the impacts are happening now. Increases in drought and flooding are driving up food prices and making water even scarcer, hurting people from all walks of life.

Against this backdrop, the South African government is considering backing future coal power stations and hundreds of new coal mining licences are also under consideration. In places like the pristine Waterberg biosphere, and at Mtunzini and the Imfolozi National Park, both in Kwa Zulu Natal, new mines post a twin threat to the wellbeing of people and to cherished natural heritage.

Adam again, “A just transition away from coal to clean solar and wind energy will certainly not happen over-night, so this is just the beginning of the Fossil Free Africa campaign.

“We can have a fossil free future with solar and wind providing locally-generated electricity for millions of people but it must start now with a step change in investment in clean renewable energy.  Banks, pension funds, universities and faith based organisations must commit to stop financing future projects, divest their existing investments and back renewable energy”.

Fossil Free Africa launched an online petition calling on Nedbank to stop financing fossil fuels now calling for:

  • full disclosure of their fossil fuel investments
  • prioritising investment in renewable energy financing
  • developing a true risk profile of fossil fuel investments
  • support for research on the true cost of fossil fuels to people and the environment in particular water pollution and access
  • a public statement committing to stop financing future mining, refineries and power station projects in South Africa and across Africa

The campaign is part of the fast growing global grassroots divestment movement, which has seen over 160 universities, faith based organisations and pension funds commit to moving their investments out of fossil fuel companies in the last 4 years. The World Council of Churches is the latest organisation to have answered calls to divest from leaders including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and grassroots activists across the world.  The Fossil Free South Africa campaign launched last week and includes calls on UCT and other varsities across the country to divest their endowments.


Note to Editors

South African banks’ investments in fossil fuels

Investment into the coal sector continues to remain a controversial option for global energy security. According to Els, 2014, global coal mining still requires USD735 billion investment through to 2035. This investment does not include the costs of actual mining operations or the transportation costs. A further, USD300 billion is potentially required to develop transportation infrastructure, mainly rail. Investment into coal is regarded as less expensive per equivalent unit of output than oil or gas (Els, 2014).

Greenpeace Africa commissioned a study to understand the external cost of coal combustion in South Africa, in 2002, and estimated the true cost of coal combustion for the country to potentially be ZAR60.6 billion (Greenpeace, 2011). This estimate was based on findings from the Kusile power station and potentially underestimates the overall cost. Rainforest Action Network et al’s (2014) Coal Finance Report Card states that the financial case for investment into coal is declining.

Yet, between 2005 and 2013, Barclays Group, Nedbank and Standard Bank continued to underwrite investments and make loans to the value of Euro 0.72 billion, garnering combined profits of around ZAR32 563 million for the 2013 annual financial year.

Table 1: Companies investing in thermal coal in Africa (2014)


Market Capitalization (ZAR Bil)

Operating profit (FY13)

(ZAR Mil)

Disclosed coal Investment(s)

(Rand million)

Sphere of influence

Public listing

Barclays Group


8 735






7 168




Standard Bank


16 660




Source: Bloomberg (with permission), BankTrack (with permission), Company reports, 2013

Based on the annual and sustainability reports of the three banks reviewed, it was evident that they provided figures and information on their annual investments into renewable energy projects, but did not publish their annual investment figures into thermal coal projects. 

Fossil Free Africa – take action

Sign up to the petition and campaign here:


For further information and to request interviews with Ferrial Adam, 350 Africa & Arab world Team Leader, please contact Adi Mistry Frost in the 350 Regional Press Office at adi@350.org or +27767699302.

[1] ‘Global Carbon Budget 2014’, Earth System Science Data journal – Emissions for 2014, according to the research, are set to rise to 40bn tonnes. That compares with emissions of 32bn tonnes in 2010, showing how fast the output is rising.

[2] ‘Banking on Coal’, http://www.banktrack.org/show/pages/banking_on_coal_2014_report