Canadian bank named world’s largest fossil fuel financier

Royal Bank of Canada contributed $42.1bn to fossil fuel companies last year, environmental groups say in new report.

Royal Bank of Canada logo is seen on Bay Street in Toronto
RBC, one of Canada's so-called 'Big 5' banks, has contributed $254bn to fossil fuel companies since the Paris Agreement, new report finds [File: Mark Blinch/Reuters]

A major Canadian bank was the world’s largest financier of fossil fuels last year, contributing $42.1bn to such companies, a new report by a coalition of environmental groups has found.

Released on Thursday, the Banking on Climate Chaos report (PDF) found that the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) had surpassed United States-based JP Morgan Chase for the first time since 2019.

RBC, one of Canada’s so-called “Big 5” banks, has contributed $254bn to fossil fuel companies since the Paris Agreement, the global climate accord that came into force in 2016.

“JPMorgan Chase retains its overall ranking for worst fossil fuel bank since 2016, having committed $434 billion since the year the Paris Agreement went into effect,” said the report, which was authored by the Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, and other environmental organisations.

For years, climate activists have called on major financial institutions around the world to divest from fossil fuel companies as a way to address the climate crisis.

In Canada, this has included a push by Indigenous communities to get major banks to pull their money out of contentious pipeline projects, including the Coastal GasLink pipeline that will cut through Wet’suwet’en territory on the country’s west coast.

Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs march to RBC headquarters in Toronto, Canada
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs march to the Royal Bank of Canada headquarters in Toronto to protest the bank’s support for Coastal GasLink, April 7, 2022 [Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

RBC’s president and CEO, Dave McKay, has defended the bank’s support for Coastal GasLink, local media reported, saying the project had been reviewed and approved by regulators.

In an emailed statement to Al Jazeera on Thursday, RBC rebuffed the new report, saying its authors “do not validate their figures or findings with us and we can’t confirm their conclusions”.

“Further, this report does not measure progress in meeting our climate goals. We are confident in our ongoing engagement with our clients and our climate strategy,” the bank said.

This includes “setting initial interim emissions reduction targets for lending in 3 key sectors which inform our lending decisions”, among other steps, RBC added.

But Wet’suwet’en leaders renewed their condemnations of the bank’s position following the report’s release, and they called on RBC to “defund climate chaos now”.

Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist for Greenpeace Canada, also said in a statement that the findings showed that “we can no longer simply trust bankers to do the right thing on climate change or Indigenous rights”.

“Asking politely will only lead to us continuing to be played for suckers by the big banks,” Stewart said.

“Canada is currently legislating a requirement for auto manufacturers to phase out gasoline-powered cars in favour of electric vehicles, and now our federal banking regulators must similarly require banks to phase out fossil fuel finance while ramping up support for clean energy.”

Source: Al Jazeera