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By Jarryd Westerdale

Digital Journalist

Standard Bank labelled ‘climate criminals’ at XR protest in Johannesburg

Climate activists also vented their frustration at South Africa's exporting of coal to Israel and the environmental consequences of the Gaza situation.

An internationally affiliated climate activism group continued their fight against one of South Africa’s oldest banks.

Standard Bank have been the focus of a campaign by Extinction Rebellion (XR) for what the activists believe is inaction on climate change.

XR first disrupted an AGM in June 2023, before staging a three-day occupation at the bank in September demanding an audience with executives.

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With banners labeling them ‘climate criminals’, roughly 30 XR supporters returned to the bank’s office in Johannesburg on Monday, 10 June, to renew their calls for a boycott.

“They are the only big bank who have not committed to no more new fossil fuel projects. They have gas projects going ahead which produce methane, a gas 80 times more heat trapping than carbon dioxide,” organiser Shaun Fautley told The Citizen.

In their motivation for a boycott, XR urged clients to close their accounts with Standard Bank and accused the Standard Bank Group (SBG) of increasing their investments in fossil fuel projects, most notably the East African Crude Oil Pipeline from Uganda to Tanzania.

Fautley attended an SBG AGM as a guest several hours before the protest but expressed his dissatisfaction with the comments made by SBG executives.

He believed they were only paying lip service to the Paris climate accord and other international agreements.

Standard Bank responds to climate protest

Responding to questions posed by The Citizen, SBG spokesperson Ross Linstrom said they could not comment directly on certain projects but was adamant that they had not funded any new coal-fired power stations for over a decade.

Outlining their financial commitments in recent years, Linstrom stated, “In 2023, we provided 5.39 times more finance for renewable energy power generation compared to non-renewable energy power generation. This includes on and off-balance sheet loans and advances and our equity risk and ordinary share holdings exposures.”

Highlighting their push to become more sustainable, but acknowledging the realities of developing nations, he added, “While we are leading investors in renewable energy across Africa, including South Africa, it would be irresponsible to cease funding for coal when our economy remains highly dependent on coal-power.”

Banners explaining claims made against Standard Bank by Extinction Rebellion. Photo: Mad Med

Targeting a perceived association with Israel

The activists took the opportunity to protest Israel’s military offensive in Gaza and implied a complicit role played by South Africa and SBG.

Protesters held placards with claims that South Africa’s biggest export to Israel was coal, saying that 10% of Israel’s power generation was South African-supplied.

ALSO READ: SA government condemns Israeli attack on Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza

Additionally, Fautley pointed out that the South African Jewish Board of Directors (SAJBD) had their banking facilities with SBG.

SAJBD Associate Director, David Saks, commented to The Citizen, “The SAJBD are baffled and appalled to see the co-opting of a climate protest for anti-semitic and nefarious causes. They are denigrating SA Jews and not Israel.”

“This is a classic case of how legitimate causes are now routinely being hijacked and used as platforms to propagate anti-Jewish bigotry. It is another instance of how certain people believe that events in the Middle East give them a license to smear the local Jewish community and its leadership,” he added.

However, Fautley was adamant that there was no anti-semitic or anti-Jewish sentiment attached to the protest.

Stuck between a rock and a developmental place

XR want a commitment from SBG to stop further investments in fossil fuel projects, but Lindstrom illustrated how intertwined energy, development and the environment were.

ALSO READ: Climate change: Earth’s future in our hands

“Standard Bank is committed to the growth of the continent’s economy and our business activities support economic growth and job creation. We invest in the critical infrastructure required to enable economic growth and human development. We support our clients to mitigate negative impacts on the environment and partner with them to help strengthen their resilience to climate change,” he said.

These seemed to be secondary concerns to the XR protestors, with their message clarified on one placard that read, “No business as usual. The planet is burning.”

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extinction Gaza Israel protest Standard Bank