A 17-year-old snorkel instructor who lives by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has inspired a guerilla art campaign against HSBC bank in Britain this week.
Ava Shearer, from Port Douglas, Queensland filed a complaint to Australia’s advertising regulator against HSBC’s ‘misleading’ adverts promoting their Barrier Reef credit scheme earlier this month.
In response, two UK groups, Brandalism and Fossil Free London have created a guerilla art campaign of spoof HSBC adverts at over 50 billboards and bus stops in London, Brighton and Bristol.
Ava Shearer said: “HSBC’s ads claim it is investing in the future of the Great Barrier Reef when in reality it is investing in the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef by investing in the Adani Group and its disastrous Carmichael coal mine.”
“By financing fossil fuel projects and investing in climate wreckers like the Adani Group HSBC is doing more damage than good to the Great Barrier Reef. HSBC need to be held accountable for their blatant greenwashing.”
The guerilla artworks installed in the UK criticise HSBC financing of Adani Group – an Indian mining company who are constructing the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, Australia. 
The ‘subvertising’ campaign shows images of reef damage and coal mining, drawing a clear line from HSBC to environmental destruction.
HSBC is preparing to announce details of a new climate policy to phase out coal financing by 2040, but campaigners fear it will contain too many loopholes to be effective.
The mock bank ads were created by artists Merny Wernz and Matt Bonner and installed by the Brandalism network – a group of activists who hack corporate advertising spaces without permission to critique major corporations.
Joanna Warrington from Fossil Free London said: “HSBC will talk up their climate credentials ahead of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow. They will tell the world that they’re not funding Adani’s coal mine but that’s a lie. HSBC have $70 million shares in Adani group. London is the home of too many climate-wrecking banks like HSBC, so we wanted to send our solidarity to Ava Shearer in Australia for calling out HSBC’s intercontinental advertising bullshit.”
Tona Merriman from Brandalism said: “We were so inspired by Ava calling out HSBC’s greenwash regarding the dire state of the Great Barrier Reef that we wanted to support. Our subvertising campaign reveals the dirty financing and destruction that we don’t hear about in the advertising campaigns of major banks.”
While HSBC does not directly finance the highly controversial Carmichael mine, campaigners point out that owing to Adani’s complex business structure, any financial support to any Adani Group company is propping up the mine.
Adani’s 2021 financial statements reveal its Australian subsidiaries have borrowed $4 billion from other Adani Group entities to finance the controversial coal mining project. According to Australian protest movement Stop Adani, HSBC is currently financing Adani with almost US$70 million in shares and bonds.
Burning coal is the single largest source of CO2 emissions, which are directly causing global heating. The Great Barrier Reef has seen regular mass bleaching events as a result of rising water temperatures, threatening the reef and the rich biodiversity it supports.
Adani’s Carmichael mine, which has been called a ‘carbon bomb’, endangers the reef’s future through its huge volume of associated CO2 emissions.
But Stop Adani campaigners in Australia have also highlighted that the mine will also lead to hundreds more coal ships travelling through the reef, causing direct damage to corals through coal dust and sediment disturbance.
The UK subvertising campaign, which includes art designs by two artists, Matt Bonner and Merny Wernz, is a bold challenge to HSBC.
With the words “We fund Adani” and key details of the Carmichael mine’s devastating impact on the environment and human rights, the campaign puts the pressure on HSBC in the UK, where the bank is based.
The teenager asserts that HSBC is misrepresenting its environmental credentials in a widespread ad campaign. The adverts focus on a reef credits scheme through which the bank aims to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
Shearer is concerned that this misleads the public into thinking HSBC is safeguarding the reef – while hiding the fact that the bank continues to support industries contributing to global warming, which will harm the reef overall.
1. Sydney Morning Herald: Student claims HSBC’s Great Barrier Reef ad a ‘blatant greenwash’
Details of Ava Shearer’s complaint to Ad Standards: https://www.stopadani.com/cairns_student_and_snorkel_guide_calls_out_hsbc_bank_greenwash
2. The Carmichael mine, which first struck coal in June 2021, has approvals to produce 60 million tonnes of coal each year and will open one of the largest coal basins on Earth. It is predicted to be fully operational this year. The UK artworks depict the coal mine as “4.6 billion tonne carbon bomb.”
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