We’re Not Banking on Cleantech
Oil Free Wellington statement
Oil Free Wellington is not all that keen on the Green Party’s ‘Green Investment Bank’
In response to the Green Party’s release of their ‘Green Investment Bank’ policy yesterday, Oil Free Wellington ask: is another for-profit bank really a solution to climate change and environmental degradation?
This ‘Green Investment Bank’ is proposed as an (at arm’s length) government owned, for-profit institute that will facilitate investment into clean tech and low carbon projects. The funds (estimated at $120 million over the first three years) are proposed to come from increasing oil royalties from 46% to the international average of 70%. It’s described as a step towards the larger project of “decoupling our economic prosperity from environmental damage and resource depletion” . This is certainly a crucial concern, and recognises the urgency of reducing exploitation of the earth and atmosphere, but the premise of the proposal appears to largely still rely on market mechanisms to remedy our situation.
There’s the issue that increasing royalties could be seen as a way of condoning risky and ecocidal deep-sea drilling off our coastlines, but our key concern is with the lack of criteria and safeguards, and the inherently harmful business model this Bank is proposed to operate within.
We don’t need more for-profit banks, we need different ways of doing things that value people and planet over profit. But if there was any proposal to create another for-profit bank, it needs from the very start a heavy focus on how, given that it is still for-profit, it would ensure that any investments were actually ecologically sound and helpful, not supporting companies wreaking havoc either here or overseas; that projects were socially just, and that the companies carrying them out had robust workers’ rights records (again, anywhere that they have operated). The policy states the Bank will commit to the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment, however this is not enough. Companies signed up to this loose framework still finance hugely harmful projects, such as expanding the Australian coal industry .
The policy paper promises that “The Green Investment Bank will apply a commercial filter to investment decisions,” via financial experts who will identify “clean and profitable investments” . We’re disappointed that the implicit suggestion here seems to be that the market will decide which projects have real value for shareholders, instead of a solution that lets people and communities decide which projects have value for our climate and people.
We want to see bolder and braver ideas that support a real shift to valuing decentralised and democratically controlled clean and sustainable energy projects, and decentralised and democratically controlled funds making them happen.
The Bank aims to be part of the global business movement known as ‘cleantech’. Although Russel Norman notes this movement is “taking off internationally,”  it is not about community owned energy generation and ecologically wise solutions. Cleantech is about, in Climate Justice Taranaki’s words, “turning climate change concerns into public acceptance and public funding for [investors’] private business ventures… [and] turning their self-induced financial and ecological crises into a driver of more unsustainable economic growth and legitimation” .
The Green Party’s proposal for a green investment bank ignores the wider social and economic context we live in now, and is a poor band-aid for a broken system. Using taxpayer money to fund private business to make a ‘green profit’ simply entrenches the current economic system that is unsustainable for our society and for our environment even in the short term. One in four children in NZ live in poverty, and the gap between rich and poor grows by the day. The people who will be most affected by climate change aren’t the rich. We aren’t all in this together, really.
The very same corporations who have benefited from exploiting fossil fuels will simply move on to exploiting something else that meets the ‘green’ criteria, as we have seen with the ecological disasters associated with various biofuel ventures. This proposal does nothing to alter an economic system that by its very nature must exploit people and the environment – making winners of a very few and a great many losers of the rest of us. Climate change and fossil fuel exploitation are symptoms of an economic system that requires endless growth. Until politicians recognise the bankruptcy of business as usual, we will see a great many false and technocratic proposals to ‘solve’ climate change while those at the top stay safe and dry.
The “cleantech revolution”  will only be worthy of its name if it recognises that our current crisis represents more than “economic opportunities” for a select group. The opportunity present within the environmental and climate imperative is not for a few to get richer: it’s for us all to transition to a more socially just and ecologically sound society. Relying on false market-oriented solutions that attempt to play off nationalist greed whilst continuing to value profit over people and the planet is not going to cut it.
We applaud the Green Party for their recognition that we need to urgently transition to a sustainable, low carbon economy. But we encourage people to question whether a Bank that champions the cleantech industry as it stands merely serves to affirm business as usual: a system that is unequivocally not serving the well-being of people or the earth.