Why environmentalists went after Canada’s biggest bank for alleged greenwashing

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Standing within the rain in downtown Montreal, Kukpi7 (Chief) Judy Wilson lifts her fist in defiance outdoors a department of the Royal Bank of Canada. Wilson’s gesture goes largely unnoticed by the consumers who hurry previous, however her efforts to carry banks accountable on financing fossil fuels have definitely caught the eye of Canadian regulators.

Wilson, based mostly in south central British Columbia, is the chief of the Skat’sin te Secwepemc-Neskonlith Indian Band and the secretary-treasurer for the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC). 

She’s additionally considered one of six candidates who filed a criticism to Canada’s Competition Bureau, accusing RBC of greenwashing — one thing that prompted the regulator to open an inquiry into whether or not Canada’s biggest bank misled prospects about its local weather motion.

“It’s time to be truthful,” mentioned Wilson, who spoke with CBC News whereas in Montreal for a gathering.

“[Climate change] is actual, it is right here and now we have to cope with it.”

Wilson says there isn’t any time to waste in slicing emissions as Indigenous individuals are disproportionately affected by local weather change. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

The allegations, filed with the assistance of environmental legislation non-profit Ecojustice, recommend the bank has been advertising itself as being aligned with the local weather objectives of the Paris Agreement, all whereas persevering with to finance the fossil gasoline business. 

It’s not the primary time RBC has been known as out over its help of the oil and fuel sector. 

A separate report printed this yr by a bunch of environmental organizations, together with the Sierra Club and the Indigenous Environmental Network, ranked RBC fifth globally amongst main banks financing the fossil gasoline business.

But in advertising supplies, RBC states that it’s “absolutely dedicated” to supporting drastically lowering greenhouse fuel emissions to web zero by 2050.

“The claims and RBC’s precise motion do not stack up,” mentioned Matt Hulse, the Ecojustice lawyer who helped draft and file the criticism to the Competition Bureau.

WATCH | RBC’s local weather blueprint advert:

RBC says criticism is unfounded

In response to the Competition Bureau’s investigation, the bank denied it has been deceptive purchasers. 

“RBC strongly disagrees with the allegations within the criticism, and believes the criticism to be unfounded and never consistent with Canada’s local weather plan,” RBC spokesperson Andrew Block mentioned in an e-mail. 

“It’s critically necessary that we get the transition to web zero proper with a purpose to handle local weather change and now we have taken a measured, considerate, and deliberate strategy in our local weather technique.”

In the previous, RBC has mentioned its transition to web zero have to be gradual with a purpose to succeed.

A Royal Bank of Canada emblem is seen on Bay Street within the coronary heart of the monetary district in Toronto on January 22, 2015. The bank has been accused of misrepresenting its local weather actions. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Time is a luxurious that Wilson would not have, as her neighborhood is already experiencing the impacts of local weather change.

“Many of our individuals nonetheless hunt and fish and harvest on the land … to allow them to firsthand see what local weather change is doing. The rivers are low, hotter. The forests are tinder dry,” she mentioned. 

“With climate-destroying fossil fuels and local weather change disproportionately impacting Indigenous peoples all over the world, as nicely in Canada, now we have to make the proper determination.”

Sending a message to the business

Holding corporations accountable through the Competition Bureau has labored previously. Earlier this yr, Keurig Canada was ordered to pay a $3-million penalty for falsely claiming its single-use Okay-Cup pods will be recycled.

An inquiry might take greater than a yr, however environmental advocates hope that in the event that they’re profitable, different banks will take word.

“RBC is a market chief. What they do, different banks — significantly in Canada — observe,” Hulse mentioned. “We thought that going after the biggest, if our criticism is upheld, would ship a message throughout the business.”

Dror Etzion, a professor specializing on sustainability on the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, mentioned it is turn into standard for banks to undertaking a picture of sustainable finance.

“The key actually is, how severe, how trustworthy is self-reporting on these subjects?” Etzion mentioned.

Dror Etzion, a professor on the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, mentioned the result of the investigation into RBC could be that banks are extra cautious of their wording. (Submitted by Dror Etzion)

He mentioned regulators can play an necessary position in holding corporations accountable on local weather guarantees, quite than leaving it to people.

“It’s very robust for shoppers to shoulder and in addition it is a bit of guilt-tripping us as people to attempt to power companies to vary their behaviour.”

While the bureau’s findings might create ripple results inside the monetary business at massive, Etzion mentioned they could not result in the type of end result that environmentalists are hoping for.

“It would not be good if the result is that the authorized groups and these banks simply turn into extra cautious in how they specific themselves,” Etzion mentioned.

“What can be superb is that if the insurance policies and techniques underlying these banks’ actions do change in a significant means.”

Wilson, left, hugs her grandson, Quinn, within the Okanagan following a cleaning ceremony. Wilson mentioned her youngsters and grandchildren are the explanation she’s pushing for local weather motion. (Submitted by Judy Wilson)

Wilson hopes it is the latter, however whatever the end result mentioned she’s going to maintain pushing for local weather motion. 

“There’s going to be continued stress like this, individuals aren’t simply going to surrender,” she mentioned. 

Fighting for the following era

Wilson, who can be attending the UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt subsequent month, mentioned she’s realized points have to be tackled holistically. 

Political, authorized and technical — it was the three-pronged strategy that she realized from her late Uncle George Manuel, an internationally-renowned Indigenous activist and founding father of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. 

Wilson mentioned she now provides religious and worldwide as necessary parts to that formulation. 

“What we’re doing is necessary not simply for the planetary disaster, it is for the well-being of our youngsters and our grandchildren,” she mentioned.

“I’m going to do all the things I can to maintain my youngsters and my grandson nicely, in order that they will survive. Our ancestors did that for us, in any other case we would not be right here.”

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