Australian court opens CBA records to answer greenwashing concerns

FILE PHOTO: Australia's Commonwealth Bank logo is pictured at a branch in Sydney
·2 min read

By Paulina Duran

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian court has given a Commonwealth Bank of Australia shareholder access to confidential documents to check whether the country's No.1 bank complied with its own climate change policy in lending to oil and gas projects.

The Federal court on Thursday published an order granting the Guy & Kim Abrahams Family Trust authorisation to inspect some of the bank's internal documentation on seven oil and gas projects.

It is the first time an Australian court has granted access to internal documentation to scrutinise a company's compliance with its net-zero climate change policy, said the Abrahams' lawyer David Barnden.

It comes amid growing concerns about "greenwashing", where companies give a flattering picture of their climate policies and business practices to boost their appeal to ethical investors.

"The orders enable our clients to inspect internal bank documents so they can come to a view on whether the bank was involved in greenwashing or have sufficient internal systems to ensure their policies are complied with," Barnden said.

The Abrahams' concerns stem from the bank's financing of the seven projects despite committing in 2019 to only providing funds for new oil and gas or metallurgical coal projects if they were in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The investor will get CBA records on projects including the Permian Highway natural gas pipeline in the United States, Euronav NV crude carriers and Santos's acquisition of the Barossa Gas Field.

The Abrahams will get access to "all documents created by (CBA) in order to carry out an assessment of the environmental, social and economic impacts of the projects... (and) documents created ... in order to carry out an assessment of whether the projects are in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement," the document says.

The orders also grant access to board and executive leadership records documenting CBA's change in its oil and gas policies this year, which drop its previously all-encompassing restrictions on lending to the sector unless the projects align with the Paris Agreement.

A Commonwealth Bank spokesperson declined to comment.

CBA Chief Executive Matt Comyn has previously said the bank updated its policies to be more specific about what would and would not finance.

(Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; Editing by Richard Pullin and Stephen Coates)

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