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Singapore NGOs appeal for banks to invest in ASEAN’s climate action

16 Singapore non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have signed an open letter to the top leadership of DBS, OCBC and UOB, urging them to be leaders of sustainable development by accelerating the transition from coal, oil and gas to renewable energy, particularly in Southeast Asia.

The NGOs, who are involved in a range of social and environmental issues, expressed concern over the impact of emissions from coal burning on climate change and the health of local communities.

They appealed for the three Singapore banks to end funding for new coal projects, phase out funding for coal companies, and publicly report the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the energy projects they fund.

Karen Yeo, Director of Climate Conversations: "Our banks have played a critical role in the prosperity and stability of our communities since Singapore's founding. Ending financing for coal is the only way for our banks to remain true to that founding vision. By choosing to invest instead in our ASEAN neighbours' renewable energy aspirations, our banks could lead the way and become pillars of prosperity, stability and security for the whole of ASEAN."

The letter comes as Singapore steps up effort to address climate change, such as designating 2018 as the Year of Climate Action and hosting the Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Climate Change on 10th July.

In the letter, the NGOs highlighted that banks can play a “crucial role” to accelerate ASEAN’s climate action, not only through their own financing decisions, but by “providing the relevant market signals and advice to policymakers and energy producers”.

The NGOs were moved to take action by the news in April this year of DBS and OCBC signing off on financing of a coal power plant in Vietnam.

In the statement, the NGOs asserted that “everyone in Southeast Asia should have access to affordable energy, and it need not come at the expense of their health and livelihood”. The NGOs cited studies showing that renewables in Southeast Asia were already comparable in cost to fossil fuels, and that shifting from coal to renewables, in combination with energy efficiency measures, can provide Southeast Asians access to electricity while reducing premature deaths from air pollution and will cut the cost of importing coal.

While all three banks have responsible lending policies, the NGOs expressed concern about the lack of public disclosure on how the policies were influencing lending decisions, and that the policies do not rule out financing of new coal power plants in Southeast Asia.

The letter highlighted that deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are needed in the next 20 years to limit global warming to 2oC as set in the Paris Agreement, but building new coal power plants will lock in greenhouse gas emissions for more than 30 years.

The NGOs hope that publicising this letter will increase awareness among the public on how the money that they deposit or invest with the banks should be used in a responsible way.

Benjamin Tay, President of PM Haze: “Being a father of a 5 year old daughter, I, like most Singaporeans, work hard and save money for a better future – in particular for our children. We hope that banks, as guardians of our life savings, can do more to consider their impact on both current and future generations, when they lend or invest this money.”

The letter can be found here.