Canada is burning, and our banks are fanning the flames

Canada’s big banks are financing the climate crisis through their fossil fuel lending, argues Richard Brooks

The evidence is conclusive – and damning. Fossil fuels are accelerating the climate crisis and extreme weather devastating western Canada. And Canada’s big banks are enabling this. This is on them. The banks patted themselves on the back this week for raising a meager $360,000 for wildfire relief efforts, despite the hundreds of billions that they’ve sunk into fossil fuel companies, accelerating extreme and deadly weather. It’s a tone-deaf disgrace. 

For far too long, the disconnect between cause and effect of climate-related disasters has worked against the social impetus to address climate change. But once again, we are being confronted with the reality that climate change is here, it affects all of us and it needs to be fought. The combustion of fossil fuels has largely contributed to the heat dome that has settled over British Columbia and Alberta and is responsible for more than 700 deaths. 

As we have seen in heartbreaking video footage that’s been circulating, following three days of record-breaking temperatures, which reached up to 49.6 degrees Celsius, residents of Lytton, British Columbia were forced to flee as the town became engulfed in flames. The roughly 1,000 residents had no choice but to evacuate with only a moment’s notice, and as a result, those who survived have been left with nothing. Evacuation orders continued throughout the province, urging residents to make emergency plans and to be prepared to seek safety elsewhere. 

As emergency responders battle more than 180 other wildfires across the British Columbia interior, temperatures along the shoreline rise even higher. Temperatures recorded by University of British Columbia researcher Chris Harley have reached 50℃. The heat wave has decimated marine life along the 25,725 kilometres of shoreline. It is estimated that more than one billion seashore animals, including tens of thousands of mussels, clams and snails. The destruction compounds itself.

The real question we must pose ourselves is: What is causing this? And how are these extreme, but increasingly common, weather events being made worse? The answer lies with climate change and what drives it.

Despite making lofty climate-related declarations, Canada’s banks are some of the greatest proponents of the country’s continued fossil fuel use and the biggest financiers of coal, oil and gas companies. 

Since the Paris Agreement entered into force in 2016, Canadian banking giants Royal Bank Canada (RBC), TD, Scotiabank, Bank of Montreal (BMO), and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) have lent or financed more than $720bn to fossil fuel companies – providing funds to some of the corporations most responsible for the climate crisis and these extreme weather events. RBC has gone on the record as a supporter of the principles of the Paris Agreement and has made a, so far vague, Net-Zero-by-2050 commitment. Yet it remains the top Canadian bank funding fossil fuels (and the world’s 5th largest fossil fuel funder) with more C$200bn invested into fossil fuel companies including ones actively expanding fossil fuel production, like Enbridge and Coastal Gaslink. These investments are being issued at exactly the time when we need to be scaling back production – the evidence from BC and Alberta couldn’t be stronger. 

With our government recently upping its climate ambitions to reduce emissions by 40-45 per cent by 2030, RBC’s continued financing of big polluters seems at odds with the direction we are supposed to be taking. Case in point, one of RBC’s most recent forays into fossil fuels was inking a sustainability linked loan to Enbridge which, despite court challenges and fierce on the ground opposition by Indigenous groups in Minnesota, is pouring cash into building the Line 3 tar sands pipeline. The emissions increase would be the equivalent of adding 38 million cars to our roads.

It is not enough to rely on so-called ‘sustainable financing’ to counteract the increasingly short-term effects of continued investments in fossil fuel companies and their related environmental degradation. RBC and the other big banks must stop funding fossil fuel expansion and phase out all existing fossil fuel funding. A safe climate can’t afford any new fossil fuel infrastructure or projects, nor can it endure the current weight of fossil fuel investments.

Richard Brooks is Climate Finance Director of campaign group