Montreal

Stop funding fossil fuels, protesters tell RBC at Montreal rally

Protesters gathered in front of the Royal Bank of Canada's Montreal office Saturday, one of dozens of rallies held across the country.

Bank needs to 'stop talking and start acting,’ says Greenpeace

Women stand in the street with signs.
Protesters gathered Saturday outside the Royal Bank of Canada's main office in Montreal, one of several demonstrations held across the country. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Protesters gathered in front of the Royal Bank of Canada's (RBC) downtown Montreal office on Saturday to demand that the bank stop investing in fossil fuels.

It was one of dozens of protests held across Canada as part of a multi-day campaign to put pressure on the financial institution ahead of its annual general meeting next week.

Rajendra Kapila Basdeo, co-ordinator of the Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers) solidarity collective, was one of the people who showed up. 

"The bank should be a good example for people to put their money in, and they should divest from fossil fuels," he said. "It's the only proper way to protect our environment."

Last year, a Banking on Climate Chaos report found that RBC was the world's foremost funder of fossil fuels in 2022. Between 2016 and 2021, the bank ranked fifth in financing fossil fuels, according to the report.

Greenpeace Canada says that since the Paris Agreement came into effect in 2016, the bank has contributed more than $250 billion US in funding fossil fuels. 

The bank, which has said its lending practices will reach "net-zero" emissions by 2050, has also been accused of greenwashing, marketing itself as being aligned with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement while continuing to finance the fossil fuel industry. 

Marlene Hale, an elder from the Wet'suwet'en First Nation also among the protesters in Montreal, says RBC needs to meet with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs at their annual general meeting next week.

That's something the bank has refused to do in the past, Hale said.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline, which runs through the territory belonging to the northern B.C. First Nation, is also funded by RBC, despite opposition from several hereditary chiefs.

Not taking swift and decisive action to curb emissions means there will be more extreme weather and environmental destruction, Hale said.

"This summer is going to tell all. It's going to be hotter, and there's gonna be more floods," she said. 

A woman bangs on a drum.
Marlene Hale, an elder from the Wet'suwet'en First Nation, says RBC needs to meet with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

'Just words'

RBC told CBC it's taking steps to make its business greener.

"Supporting our clients on their decarbonization journey is where we believe we can have the biggest impact in the climate transition," it said in a statement.

The bank says it's tripling its lending for renewable energy, with the goal of growing low-carbon energy lending to $35 billion by 2030. It also says it's allocating $1 billion by 2030 to support the development of climate solutions and supporting the acceleration of capital to emissions reduction efforts.

"If RBC wants to do something about climate change, they need to stop talking and start acting," said Laura Ullmann, head of climate at Greenpeace Canada.

"They need to stop investing in fossil fuels. They need to commit to no new investments, no new projects."

While investing in renewals is a good step, the bank's rhetoric doesn't match up with the fact it continues to support companies that fail to meet the standards of the International Energy Agency, Ullmann said.

A March 2024 Greenpeace report calls on RBC to stop funding oil and gas companies that miss the mark and asks Ottawa to introduce rules to ensure federally regulated financial institutions are in line with Paris climate commitments and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. 

Hale calls the promises to cut back on emissions "just words."

Basdeo isn't impressed either.

"They cannot be expanding oil and gas while talking [about] a green strategy as well," he said. "The two things don't make any sense."

A person stands in the street.
Laura Ullmann, climate head at Greenpeace Canada, says RBC has to stop supporting companies that fail to meet the standards of the International Energy Agency. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

American investors get RBC to 'show their work'

Earlier this week, RBC said it would start disclosing the ratio of how much money it puts into clean energy projects compared to how much gets invested in fossil fuel extraction.

The decision followed pressure from investors in the United States.

"Up until now, RBC had resisted calls to disclose that ratio clearly across all their lending and investments every year," said New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, who reached an agreement with the bank. 

"All they're doing with this agreement is agreeing to show their work," said Lander, pointing out that the agreement does not require RBC to reduce investing in projects that generate or increase carbon emissions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Bongiorno

Journalist

Joe Bongiorno is a journalist, author and former high school teacher. He has reported for CBC, Canadian Geographic, Maisonneuve, Canada’s National Observer and others. He is currently a reporter with The Canadian Press.

with files from Anis Heydari and The Canadian Press