This article was originally published at The National Observer.

Canada’s five largest banks have a problem. And it’s a big one. Big to the tune of $726 billion, according to the new Banking on Climate Chaos report published March 24. RBC, TD, Scotiabank, CIBC and BMO have poured that much money into fossil fuel companies since the Paris Agreement was signed Dec. 12, 2015. RBC is at the top of the list in Canada and is the world’s fifth-largest financier of fossil fuels — and it’s not just oil and gas. Despite it being the 21st century, RBC keeps financing the fuel of the 19th century, putting more than $14 billion into coal mining and coal-related companies from 2018 to 2020.

It’s a shameful record for our banking industry. One that needs to change.

It’s clear that we are not accelerating fast enough to the just, green and equitable future that we all need. Global emissions continue to climb despite a blip from pandemic-related shutdowns. Indigenous rights-violating and air-polluting projects are continuing to get built. One of the things that is slowing us down is every dollar that continues to go into fossil fuel companies and expansion projects. Those holding our savings and mortgages and controlling the flow of money into coal, oil and gas — RBC and the rest of Canadian banking gang — need to wake up and smell the CO2.

While we should be moving at full speed with investments in real climate solutions — like renewables, retrofitting businesses, climate resiliency projects and carbon-neutral housing — we are being slowed down by continuing to build out new oil and gas infrastructure, such as TMX, Line 5, and LNG in B.C. Between 2016 and 2020, RBC financed $79 billion of business with companies actively expanding fossil fuel production, not just operating existing facilities and pipelines.

Let’s think of it this way: If you need to drive 100km/h in your electric car to get to your destination on time, you wouldn’t hitch a tar-sands excavator to the back. That’s what the $726 billion that Canada’s big banks are pouring into fossil fuel companies is — a motherlode slowing down our collective progress.

RBC and the others want to eat their cake and have it, too. They tout increasing investments in intentionally air-quoted “sustainable industries.” In February, RBC announced half a trillion dollars would go into sustainable investments by 2025. First rule of balanced nutrition, though: You can’t eat an apple to make up for gorging on doughnuts. Putting $100 billion a year into sustainable investments for the next half decade doesn’t make up for continuing to put tens of billions into tar sands, coal, pipelines and other oil and gas projects and companies. And it certainly doesn’t get your bank’s financed emissions down to net zero.

One of the other emerging problems with these big sustainable investment commitments the banks are making is that there is very little transparency on what connotes one of these investments. Recently, it was disclosed that Enbridge — builder of the Line 3 tar sands pipeline that’s making regular headlines in Minnesota for violating Indigenous rights — received a $1-billion sustainability-linked loan from some Canadian banks. If the most egregious, rights-violating fossil fuel-expanding projects can be categorized as “sustainable finance,” then we’re into Orwellian “Peace Is War” territory.

Last point on sustainable investments is that it’s easy to make bold-sounding promises to invest more in the sector of the economy that is booming. Renewables-based portfolios have consistently and significantly outperformed traditional energy stocks for the past 10 years. Any bank executive who doesn’t want to do more business in one of the economy’s most profitable sectors should probably be fired. Based on the financing record of the banks revealed on March 24, explicit decisions from the C-suite have been made to continue to offer lines of credit and underwrite fossil fuel companies to the tune of billions.

Which brings us back to the why of this story. Why are RBC and the other Canadian banks choosing to continue to do business with the companies that are at the forefront of driving the climate crisis we are facing today and in the years to come? The simple answer is that the banks are still making money in the short term off this line of business. Mergers, acquisitions, short-term revolving credit facilities make money for banks regardless of the industry.

Most of them are not going to be on the hook when, in 10 years time, that 2021-built pipeline or gas plant starts operating at half capacity or is prematurely shut down. And they won’t be on the line when a shale company goes bankrupt. But that calculus is beginning to change in certain subsectors, particularly for our Canadian banks. As more and more international banks, insurers and other institutions like pension funds restrict investments in the tar sands or coal, Canadian banks, known as the banks of miners and energy companies, are increasingly overexposed to these extreme energy subsectors. That’s a risk shareholders, who convene next month for all of our banks, should be concerned about.

It’s clear the calculus has to change. As the science says, we have less than a decade to change the direction of the ship we are on, and the last thing we need is to be spending money on new fossil fuel projects that have a 40-year lifespan, locking us into continued fossil fuel use. It is past the time for the value of our climate and the rights of Indigenous peoples to be worked into the decision-making equation over business deals, even if that means rapidly scaling down ties with an industry Canadian banks have been doing business with and enabling for decades. Fossil fuel companies are failing across the board to realize tangible and immediate-term transition plans that match the climate science.

When RBC proclaims the transition can’t be too disruptive or that it needs to be there to help the likes of Enbridge, it’s simply an excuse to continue to bank on climate destruction.

We’ve got no more time for excuses. What we do have time for is banks like RBC recognizing their big problem and taking real action to address it. This means dropping the false green rhetoric along with the financing of expansion projects including coal and tar sands is the start. Let’s see if the banks will rise to the challenge on their own, or if their customers and shareholders will have to force it.

Richard Brooks is the climate finance director with

This article was originally published on the National Observer website.

Did you know Canadian banks are some of the world’s worst for funding climate chaos?

Canadian banks like RBC and TD are major funders of Enbridge, flooding the company with billions to build tar sands pipeline Line 3. 

Join us tomorrow for a flash rally with Stop the Money Pipeline to Defund Line 3!

Stop the Money Pipeline is a coalition of 150+ organizations dedicated to stopping the flow of money to the fossil fuel industry.

Stop the Money Pipeline has so far focused on the US banks financing Enbridge and its Line 3 tar sands pipeline – Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Union Bank and Citi. Now STMP is inviting Turtle Island solidarity to take on the Canadian banks together — the Canadian banks who are the top 5 funders of Enbridge: RBC, TD, CIBC, Scotiabank, and Bank of Montreal. Together, we’ll #DefundLine3 (and delay TMX).

The climate finance strategy is working; for example, as enormous pressure is brought to bear on insurance companies like Liberty Mutual, AIG and Chubb to step away from Trans Mountain, the harder insurance is to get, the lower the potential sale price, and the longer it will take to build.

Trans Mountain admitted as much when they petitioned Canada’s Energy Regulator to redact and hide the names of the companies insuring Trans Mountain last week after a series of protests and digital actions targeted the Vancouver offices of some of the companies. 

By cutting the flow of money to Enbridge from Canadian banks like RBC and TD, the flow of capital funding construction dries up, delaying construction.

So too will TMX need financing for any potential sale — from the same banks financing Line 3. These banks have increasingly stringent rules on climate disclosure and investor pressure to decarbonize quickly – a “no tar sands investments” rule like the recent cross-industry “no Arctic drilling financing” rule would benefit both movements.

Join Stop the Money Pipeline TOMORROW to help unite the fights and collaborate on tactics with the #DefundLine3 movement.

“If you can stop the flow of money, you can stop the flow of oil.”

Politico reported today that John Kerry, US President Biden’s special envoy on climate, is pushing major US banks to go further than their recent vague climate commitments.

Like we’ve seen in Canada recently with TD, RBC, and now CIBC, all five of the biggest American banks have released commitments in the past few months to reach “Net Zero by 2050”.

Savvy climate activists have noted that none of these pledges contain near-term commitments or phase outs of fossil fuel financing.

Well apparently Kerry’s team is being advised by some savvy climate activists, as Politico wrote:

Daniel Firger, managing director of Great Circle Capital Advisors, said so far what banks have publicly pledged on climate is “vague,” and Kerry is now leading a “disambiguation” effort.

“No one knows what they mean yet, including Kerry’s team. But this is where the rubber hits the road,” said Firger. “It’s going to get quite fraught very quickly.”

In meetings with the bankers, Kerry has made an appeal that the public sector alone cannot catalyze the trillions of dollars of investment needed to tame rising emissions, especially in developing nations making investment decisions in electricity and transportation infrastructure that will last decades.

The White House met with environmental and Wall Street watchdog groups on March 9 to discuss its approach to potential financial sector regulations and executive actions to limit risk from climate change-fueled shocks. Groups on the call included the Center for American Progress, Public Citizen, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club and, among others.

A person who participated in the virtual meeting with domestic climate chief Gina McCarthy, her deputy, Ali Zaidi, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and his deputy, Bharat Ramamurti, said the administration is considering issuing an executive order on climate finance for the April 22 summit.

The Wall Street official, who was not in the meeting, said mandatory disclosure of material climate risks for publicly listed companies is “probably going to be the first mover,” given the body of work already done at the Securities and Exchange Commission for Obama-era voluntary guidelines. Environmental activists, however, have said such rules are merely a starting point.

“From what we’ve been hearing, the plan is to go beyond just disclosures,” said Collin Rees, a senior campaigner with Oil Change International, a group that attended the March 9 meeting.

Canadian banks should be paying close attention. Vague, voluntary commitments to stop doing something that is destroying our future, 30 years further along into the crisis, won’t cut it. We’re glad to see John Kerry and his team realizing that.

Read the full article at

Our partners at Stop the Money Pipeline are running full steam to stop the Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

In the last three months, Water Protectors have been putting their bodies on the line to stop the construction of the Line 3 tar sands pipeline on Anishinaabe land in Northern Minnesota.

Facing freezing temperatures they’ve locked themselves inside sections of pipe, blockaded excavators and shut down construction with pianos. And they’re not stopping any time soon – that’s where you come in.

On the frontlines in Northern Minnesota activists are taking almost daily direct action to stop the construction. Water Protectors recently locked themselves inside a section of pipe, blockaded the entrances to construction sites, and locked themselves to trucks being used to carry Line 3 pipeline materials.

This steady direct action resistance forms cracks in the world of profit margins. As we learned at Standing Rock, Indigenous land defense poses a deep reputational risk to the financial institutions profiting from oil pipelines.

Activists all over the world are taking action to support the work on the ground — join the fight against Line 3 and together we can stop this toxic pipeline.

Learn more how you can help at the Stop the Money Pipeline Line 3 action centre.