Op-ed: Canada’s banks play defence for the fossil fuel industry

Canada's Big 5 banks have pumped more than $700 billion in the fossil fuel industry since the Paris climate agreement in 2015

With seconds left on the clock, Canada will need a buzzer-beating shot to beat climate change. This is the playoffs, baby.

A win seems perfectly lined up: climate change is now a decisive voter issue and the federal government has promised a green and equitable post-pandemic recovery. Most of us want to see renewable energy prioritized over fossil fuels.

But some of Canada’s biggest business leaders keep running interference. Among them is a roster of VIPs, banks and Canada’s Chamber of Commerce.

The Rainforest Action Network’s annual Banking On Climate Chaos report released last week, for example, has found that Canadian banks continue to be some of the biggest funders of fossil fuels in the world.

The Big 5 – RBC, TD, Scotiabank, BMO and CIBC – have pumped more than $700 billion (CAD) into oil, gas and coal projects since the Paris climate agreement was adopted in 2015.

CIBC and RBC have both made promises to go carbon neutral, while still lobbying the federal government for tax incentives and technologies that experts warn will reduce tax revenue and incentivize the expansion of fossil fuel production, casting doubt on the sincerity of their pledges. 

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has also welcomed Ottawa’s net-zero goals but is still pushing to prioritize the oil industry in the upcoming federal budget.

Canada’s big business lobby has held some 250 meetings with federal officials since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Nearly two dozen of the meetings involved discussions on the environment, energy or climate matters. The group has also arranged meetings between oil industry executives and high-ranking public servants.

Documents released to Greenpeace Canada under Canada’s Access to Information legislation reveal the Chamber asked officials in Canada’s Natural Resources ministry to pause all new climate legislation. 

Does this sound familiar? It should. The Chamber’s demands echo those from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the country’s oil lobby.

A document leaked to Greenpeace Canada last fall – which appears to have been drafted by well-known public relations fixers Navigator – tapped the Chamber as a key player in a strategy to help fight the Clean Fuel Standard. The document sets out a plan to convince Canadians that “fighting climate change is a losing battle.”

The Chamber’s pre-budget submission sent to the parliamentary finance committee recently further takes aim at the standard and repeats other industry demands.

With a membership of 200,000 businesses and a mission to help “build the businesses that support our families, our communities and our country”, the CCC should be a key player in the struggle to solve the climate emergency. Instead, it’s playing defence for the polluters who refuse to change.

A recent analysis by global investor group Climate Action 100+ showed Canadian companies like Enbridge, TC Energy and Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary Imperial Oil are at the back of the pack and a long way from being aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Last month, Imperial urged its own investors to vote against a shareholder resolution from a Quebec pension fund that would have it adopt a net-zero target. Imperial, whose own records show that it has known about climate change since the 1960s, called the resolution “premature.”

Just because fossil fuel companies are not bringing their A-game to the climate fight doesn’t mean that they should drag other business leaders down.

Everyone from students to activist investors is already getting up off the bench and into the game, joining Indigenous and environmental leaders.

A clean economy and fossil-free transition represent an opportunity for the creation of more than 670,000 jobs and trillions of dollars in investment, not to mention stopping runaway climate change and saving lives. It’s time for Canada’s big business leaders to get off the bench. 

Jesse Firempong is a climate justice communicator with Greenpeace Canada.


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One response to “Op-ed: Canada’s banks play defence for the fossil fuel industry”

  1. With the unprecedented U.S. Westcoast wildfires and off-the-chart poor-air advisories, etcetera, I wonder how many fossil fuel industry and big bank CEOs and/or their family members may also be caught in global-warming-related harm’s way?
    Assuming the CEOs are not sufficiently foolish to believe their descendants will somehow always evade the health repercussions related to their industry’s environmentally reckless decisions, I wonder whether the profit objective of a CEO’s job-description nature is somehow irresistible to him or her?
    It all brings to mind the allegorical fox stung by the instinct-abiding scorpion while ferrying it across the river, leaving both to drown?

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