Above photo: Joshua Best, Stand.Earth.
At Royal Bank of Canada shareholder meeting, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs call for an end to fossil fuel finance.
Kicking-off shareholder season, Indigenous land defenders, climate finance experts, youth activists ramp up pressure on RBC.
Traditional territories of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee-ga (Haudenosaunee), Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Mississauga, and Wendake-Nionwentsïo First Nations (so-called Toronto, Ontario, Canada) – Despite abruptly canceling the in-person portion of their annual general meeting (AGM) today, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) faced growing calls to phase out coal, oil, gas, and tar sands funding, and instead invest in a safe, and renewable future.
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and climate finance experts asked the RBC Board and management about their role in violating Indigenous rights by bankrolling projects that perpetuate genocide against Indigenous Peoples, such as the Coastal GasLink pipeline, as well as the role of RBC’s fossil fuel financing contributing to the climate crisis. Melina Laboucan-Massimo, the co-founder of Indigenous Climate Action, spoke to shareholders about how RBC’s financing of the tar sands has detrimental impacts to her homelands, the health of Indigenous people on their territory and to the climate.
While RBC rejected a key climate resolution on a technicality, one that would end fossil fuel finance for expansion, Canada’s top fossil bank faced shareholders on 3 key climate resolutions. More than $15.4 billion worth of shares voted in favour of a resolution to more strictly define RBC’s sustainable finance to exclude fossil fuels, $11.5 billion voted in favour of limits on engaging in privatization of pollution intensive industries and $38.3 billion in favour of the board putting forward its own climate plan for shareholder approval in the future.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs spoke at a rally organized by youth advocates and Wet’suwet’en supporters featuring art, and a speak-out. This happened in coordination with dozens of events across Canada.
Despite public climate commitments, Indigenous reconciliation statements, and net-zero rhetoric, RBC has doubled down on fossil fuel financing to the tune of $263 billion CAD since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted, ranking as the world’s fifth largest fossil bank and Canada’s #1 fossil fuel financier. Canada’s major banks grew support for the fossil sector by 70% in 2021, including alarmingly increasing tar sands financing by 51% to $21 billion CAD, with RBC leading the pack at $6.81 billion CAD .
With an estimated $6.6 billion CAD price tag, RBC is the top commercial bank providing the Coastal GasLink pipeline with working capital, while acting as financial advisor for the pipeline, despite lacking consent from Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. Amidst imminent drilling preparation under the sacred Wedzin Kwa river, over 65 Hollywood stars called on RBC to stop financing the pipeline, and end fossil fuel finance once and for all.
At a February 25 landmark meeting between Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and RBC executives, Chiefs closed with a gut wrenching video of the years of police violence, arrests, raids, and harassment which continues to this day. The RBC-financed Coastal GasLink pipeline has brought a rise in police violence against Indigenous land and water defenders, with Canadian federal police spending topping $21 million CAD in Wet’suwet’en territory alone.
In the weeks and months ahead, creative actions and solidarity events with Wet’suwet’en land defenders will increase public pressure on RBC throughout the Spring and Summer.
“By financing the Coastal GasLink pipeline, RBC is choosing to bypass our right to free, prior, and informed consent and instead justify police violence against unarmed Wet’suwet’en people to push the project through.” said Sleydo’, Spokesperson for Gidimt’en Checkpoint “As an Indigenous woman, I have experienced violence by militarized RCMP to forcibly remove me from my own territory, criminalize me, and jail me. RBC is willing to risk the killing of unarmed Wet’suwet’en people by police to push this project through sovereign lands.”
“I was incredibly alarmed to learn that the tar sands saw a 51% increase in funding to the tune of $30.7 Billion CAD in just two years since the start of the pandemic. The largest investment came from Canadian banks, namely RBC, who is the top financier of fossil fuels in Canada,” said Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Co-Founder and Senior Director at Indigenous Climate Action. “These investments are not just numbers in a spreadsheet or dollars in a bank account – RBC is financing the destruction of our homelands by funding the tar sands and threatening the survival of all humans on this planet. These numbers are shocking to consider in light of the severity of the climate crisis; it is appalling that banks like RBC would double down on their investments to climate polluting industries when we need to see the exact opposite to adequately abate climate change.”
“RBC increasing fossil fuel finance over the last year makes its climate rhetoric without actual follow-through just more hot air. Despite record-setting shareholder support for climate action, we are incredibly disappointed that RBC is choosing to light our future on fire instead of being a climate champion,” said Sarah Beuhler, Stand.earth Senior Climate Finance Campaigner.
“When the smoke of wildfires is choking life, and the floods are drowning cities, the children of the world will ask who did this. RBC will be and is on that list. That is the legacy that RBC is leaving behind. RBC claims to empower youth; however, there is no youth empowerment if you are killing our chances at a livable future. For those on the frontlines, such as my people in India, the disasters I’ve mentioned are a living reality” said Aishwarya Puttur, Youth Core Organizer and Education Outreach Coordinator at Banking on a Better Future. “Youth are key for RBC’s business, but how can RBC expect young people to bank with them when they are actively financing the leading cause of the climate crisis, destroying our futures, and the current livelihoods of millions of people. That is why young people are questioning RBC on their fossil fuel investments and violation of Indigenous rights.”