‘We are the alarm, not the firefighters’ – How KoalaKollektiv is taking the fight to fossil finance

Many think the finance sector is often technical or boring, and something which climate activists can make very little of a dent in. KoalaKollektiv, a climate justice group based in Frankfurt who formed in January 2020, shows how untrue this is. By targeting financial institutions, KoalaKollektiv hopes to stop fossil fuel projects before funding has been secured.

So why target finance institutions? As Kerstin, an activist within the Kollektiv, explains ‘targeting finance is targeting climate killing projects before they even start. It is the first point you can intervene. If we get one financial institution to switch their money, to divest from coal, oil, and other damaging industries, to put that money in green industries, it’s such a big impact. Even bigger than just shutting down one project.’

Having made the decision to target finance institutions, Hannah, another activist with the Kollektiv explains why they targeted the European Central Bank (ECB); ‘we discussed targeting commercial banks. But then we are in Frankfurt and one of the big symbols of the city is the ECB building, it is related to our city.’

‘It was clear there would be a lot of recovery packages for the economy, nations and EU institutions. We wanted to make sure this is used for a green recovery,’ Kerstin explains. There is a risk that much of the recovery funding continues to go to polluting companies and states. ‘The ECB is an EU institution, so it has a responsibility for the European citizens, us all, to protect our future. As an EU institution it is obliged to comply with the Paris Agreement. It is breaking this by funding the climate crisis.

KoalaKollektiv members with a burning Earth outside the ECB in Frankfurt. Photo courtesy of KoalaKollektiv.

Making fantastic finance actions

In response to the lack of climate commitments in the ECB’s financial rules, the Kollektiv mounted a number of actions.  In October 2020, they brought a model Earth outside the ECB headquarters, then set it ablaze. This striking action brought much attention to the fact that the ECB is fueling the destruction of the planet by funnelling billions to polluters.

In December, on the eve of a Governing Council meeting by the bank, the Kollektiv beamed a giant laser show onto the ECB building. The projection read ‘Kill Co2vid, not our climate’, raising awareness of how the bank was financing a polluting recovery from the pandemic.

The following February, the Kollektiv brought an iceberg outside the ECB headquarters, with the 1.5 degree Paris target painted onto it. Activists dressed like bank employees, and covered in the logos of polluters receiving money from the ECB, then began to melt the iceberg. This showed that, as Kerstin explains, ‘by financing climate killers, the ECB is burning down the 1.5 degree goal.’

‘The nice thing there was we broke out of our bubble’ Hannah says. ‘We left the iceberg there, on a street next to the river where many people walked in the summer. Many people stopped to take selfies and pushed it in their social media. We reached people who did not regularly think about the climate crisis.’ Using the interest, they placed a stall next to the iceberg, where people could read an open letter to Christine Lagarde and the Governing Council. 

KoalaKollektiv beam ‘Kill Co2vid not our Climate on the ECB building. Photo courtesy of KoalaKollektiv.

Joining the climate strikes

In August, KoalaKollektiv participated in the Frankfurt climate strikes, along with Greenpeace, Fridays for Future Frankfurt and others. In the end, around 15,000 people came out into the city streets to call for more climate action. The blocs started in different areas of the city, then marched until they were all together. The Kollektiv started outside the ECB, with speakers coming together to explain how the bank was continuing to finance the climate crisis.

‘After the pandemic there were not too many demonstrations. I think the movement couldn’t feel its strength and energy, because we couldn’t put it to the street. Then there was this day in August, one of the first big mobilisations coming out of lockdown’ says Hannah. ‘On the street, there were people from different bubbles and backgrounds coming together. It was a great day, it released so much energy, and many more people than we expected came.’

During 2021, the ECB were reviewing their strategy, and the Kollektiv were pushing the institution to take the climate crisis seriously within it. In July, the ECB released its new strategy which surprisingly recognised that it had to integrate environmental sustainability further into its monetary policy. However, in the words of the Kollektiv, the ‘ECB’s decisions come late, the measures fall short, and their implementation schedule is far too slow.’ As a consequence, the Kollektiv are continuing to target the bank, pushing it for more ambitious action.

KoalaKollektiv burn an iceberg outside the ECB. Photo Courtesy of KoalaKollektiv.

Organising against fossil finance

KoalaKollektiv started in January 2020, just two months before the first round of lockdowns arrived in Europe. Despite this, the Kollektiv rose to the challenge, as Hannah explains ‘maybe it made us more creative, we had to come up with other ideas and create images. I think the press were keen to see this.’

‘Some of us had more time than before’ says Kerstin. ‘One of our members is a musician, so they could dedicate more time to the KoalaKollektiv. On one hand it was sad, on the other it helped us build something together at the start. Sometimes it makes things easier. We still do a lot of zoom meetings, as everyone can join from wherever they are.’

What advice would Hannah and Kerstin give other people interested in taking on fossil finance?

You don’t have to be a finance expert. We are not finance experts. We have some great people who can brief us, and we have passion and anger. Add to this some creativity and people who want to organise and act. That is enough. With this we’ve built a network of people and organisations who wish to support local movements’ Hannah explains. ‘If anyone out there is thinking I would love to do something but I’m not big enough or experienced enough or I don’t know enough, of course you can!

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