Aussie savings at risk as nature suffers

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Australians are exposed to nature’s decline – from their superannuation savings to rising prices for food and insurance claims.

Yet almost three-quarters (70 per cent) of super funds and half (50 per cent) of banks surveyed have not evaluated their nature risk, an Australian Conservation Foundation report warns.

Australia will be one of the worst-hit countries from nature loss, with half of the economy having a moderate to high direct dependency on nature, according to the Risky Business analysis.

The foundation says it is the first benchmarking report of how 20 of Australia’s largest banks and super funds handle nature-related risks.

“Australians want to know that they are not unwittingly financing the extinction of animals like the koala, or the collapse of rainforests, through their savings,” campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said.

“The financial sector bears particular responsibility for reversing the nature crisis because it decides which activities are financed or insured and under what conditions.”

Agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food product manufacturing, construction and waste and water services were found to be the most dependent on nature, followed by electricity, resources and mining and real estate.

“The total dependency of goods and services on nature is as humbling as it is frightening,” the report said.

Overall, banks and super funds agreed mandatory reporting and better availability of environmental data would lead to more effective handling of risk.

The report comes as countries prepare to vote at COP15 biodiversity talks on a global target that would require all large businesses and financial institutions to report on nature impacts and dependencies in supply chains and investment portfolios.

Separately, the international Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures is finalising guidance on risk reporting and target-setting.

A range of voluntary frameworks are available in the meantime.

Despite 95 per cent of banks and super funds ticking the box for involvement in at least one international initiative, engagement is often as an “observer”.

“Responses to nature-related target setting by both banks and super funds reveals an inadequacy that is dangerously out of touch with the reality of the nature crisis,” the report said.

Australian banks and super funds were more likely to have policies to avoid financing nature destruction overseas than to protect koala and cockatoo habitats at home.

They reported moderate to intense pressure from stakeholders to consider nature in business activities, but very little pressure from regulators.

Australian Ethical was the only super fund with a deforestation and land conversion policy, along with four banks – Bank Australia, HSBC, Rabobank and Bendigo & Adelaide Bank.

Rural lender Rabobank aims to help 50,000 farmers apply regenerative farming practices and reduce emissions by one gigaton by 2030.

Bendigo & Adelaide says it has axed lending for native forest logging and has no financing for coal, coal seam gas, crude oil and natural gas.

Most had not set nature-related targets and said it was hard to find the right data.

Yet many banks and super funds are making direct investments in nature through impact funds, loans and other financial instruments.

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