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Fair Finance Coalition Southern Africa questions banks over their financing of Karpowership South Africa 

6 December 2022 at 10:53 am

UPDATE: On 8 December 2022, attorneys for Karpowership SA Pty Ltd wrote to the Centre for Environmental Rights alleging that the release below contains “certain defamatory statements”. On 13 December 2022, CER’s attorneys wrote to attorneys for Karpowership SA Pty Ltd denying the alleged defamation.

RELEASE DATE: 6 December 2022

In light of the serious environmental and social harms posed by the Karpowership SA project, the Fair Finance Coalition Southern Africa (FFCSA) has released information on the financiers behind the project – a global syndicate of four banks.  

A report commissioned by the Fair Finance Coalition Southern Africa (FFCSA) and conducted by independent Amsterdam-based research institute, Profundo, reveals that a syndicate of four banks from around the world – Standard Chartered (United Kingdom), Investec Group (South Africa), Isbank (Turkey) and MCB Group (Mauritius) – have provided a US$ 140 million loan to Turkish energy company, Karpowership, in March 2020, concluding that this loan was intended for its Karpowership SA project. The report shows that the loans were provided for ‘general corporate purposes’ and will mature in March 2025. FFCSA has written to the four banks regarding these loans, but the banks have not provided any further information due to client confidentiality.  

The Karpowership SA project entails the proposed installation of three floating gas power ships off the coast of South Africa. In 2021, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) refused to grant environmental authorisations for all three power ships.  Karpowership’s appeal to overturn one of these environmental rulings also recently failed.  Further, the licenses granted by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) for the Karpowership SA project are currently the subject of a legal challenge brought by a South African civil society organisation on the basis that NERSA failed to act in the interests of South Africa; failed to provide adequate reasons; and failed to consider that the Karpowership SA  “emergency” contracts will not resolve the country’s current power crisis, but will instead tie South Africa to an expensive long-term contract. 

In light of the controversy surrounding this fossil fuel project, FFCSA looked into the financiers behind Karpowership SA, revealing a syndicate of four banks. 

“Given the constellation of financiers, including both South African and Turkish financiers, our conclusion is that the ultimate purpose of the loan to Karpowership is to finance the operations of Karpowership SA, however, the banks could not provide firm confirmation of this,” says Ward Warmerdam of the Netherlands-based research institute, Profundo.  

FFCSA has written to all four banks in question, posing questions about these loans and whether financing a project which poses serious environmental and social harms and which has been met with fierce opposition by civil society groups in South Africa, would pose significant and material risks to the banks and how it will affect the banks’ carbon emission status. 

“Identifying and targeting the financiers of costly and polluting projects is a critical part of our work as FFCSA. The scale of capital indicates how invested financiers are in maintaining a fossil fuel energy profile. Moreover, these financiers often have access to information that is not available to affected members of the public, such as the environmental impacts of these projects. Transparency and accountability of financiers and the impact of their financing is crucial for the public interest,”  says Alia Kajee, a member of FFCSA. 

The Green Connection  is particularly concerned about the impacts of the project on the marine ecosystem, e.g. fish nurseries, which would in turn negatively impact existing local livelihoods such as those of the local fisherfolk who would be impacted by pollution from these floating gas powerships. 

“People’s livelihoods are at stake here and it is surprising that a South African investment bank, Investec, would be associated with Karpowership,” says Neville van Rooy, member of The Green Connection, a civil society organisation working with coastal communities to input into the environmental impact assessment process for the Karpowership project.  

Apart from providing vague statements, such as indicating that the bank “has a pathway to achieve net carbon emissions in their financing by 2050”, or that the bank is “steering towards the Paris Agreement goals”, three of the banks responded to say that they could not provide comment on FFCA’s questions due to their obligation to maintain client confidentiality. The fourth bank did not respond at all.   

Three of the four banks are members of the Net Zero Banking Initiative and have committed to transitioning their lending and investment portfolios to align with net zero by 2050 or sooner, and to publicly disclosing their climate policies and climate assets in a transparent manner.

“It remains uncertain as to how the loans to Karpowership SA will affect the banks’ membership of the Net Zero Banking Initiative,” says Zahra Omar, attorney in the Corporate Accountability and Transparency Programme at the Centre for Environmental Rights. 

Information in relation to projects which have the potential for significant environmental and climate change impacts – and moreover, that could significantly undermine our country’s transition to a low-carbon economy – ought to be easily accessible and available to the public. However, when it comes to gas projects in general, civil society in South Africa is increasingly facing obstacles in accessing information, particularly financial information.

The FFCSA report has concluded that the banks have provided financing for Karpowership SA, but ultimately, the banks have left the questions of FFCSA unanswered.

Without access to key financial information, civil society organisations such as FFCSA cannot hold financiers and other role-players accountable for their roles in controversial projects such as the Karpowership SA project.  

Background

Fair Finance Coalition Southern Africa (FFCSA) is a coalition of civil society organisations working towards ensuring that public financial institutions invest in a socially and environmentally responsible manner in Southern Africa. 

Profundo is an independent not-for-profit company and research consultancy which aims to make a practical contribution to a sustainable world and social justice through analysing international commodity chains, the financial sector, policy developments and the impacts of businesses and financiers on all sustainability aspects.

Centre for Environmental Rights is a non-profit organisation of activist lawyers who help communities and civil society organisations in South Africa to realise our Constitutional right to a healthy environment by advocating and litigating for environmental justice.

The Green Connection is a civil society organisation consisting of a group of dynamic professionals drawn from diverse fields who offer their insights and perspectives into the achievement of sustainable development. The Green Connection strives to have a voice in decision making processes related to social and environmental justice in Africa.

Media Enquiries

SPOKESPEOPLE

Alia Kajee, Public Finance Campaigner at 350Africa.org (member organisation of Fair Finance Coalition Southern Africa)
Email: [email protected]
Contact number: 071 968 3339

Neville van Rooy, Outreach Coordinator at The Green Connection
Email: [email protected]

Zahra Omar, Attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights (member organisation of the Fair Finance Coalition of Southern Africa)
Email: [email protected]
Contact number: 072 615 9528

FFCSA letters to the four banks

Investec
Standard Bank Charter UK
MCB
Isbank

Civil society comments on the Karpowership EIAs

On 14 December 2022, various civil society organisations submitted comments on the proposed Karpowership projects in Richards Bay, Coega and Saldanha highlighting, amongst other things, the potential negative impacts and harms of the proposed projects.

Richards Bay: Comments by the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and groundWork

Coega: Comments by The Green Connection and the Biodiversity Law Centre

Saldanha: Comments by The Green Connection and Natural Justice 

Previous statements on Karpowership projects

https://cer.org.za/news/environmental-justice-groups-urge-nersa-to-deny-karpowership-licences 

All the legal challenges of the Karpowership projects: Appeal documents and court papers

https://cer.org.za/programmes/pollution-climate-change/litigation/challenges-to-gas-developments/the-proposed-karpowership-gas-to-power-projects