Members of the public submit complaint claiming RBC advertising on climate action is misleading
April 21, 2022
Following Royal Bank of Canada’s shareholder meeting, and ahead of Earth Day, complaint highlights hypocrisy between the Bank’s climate commitments and its fossil fuel financing
OTTAWA/TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ANISHNAABEG PEOPLE – Six members of the public, supported by environmental groups, are requesting that the Competition Bureau open an investigation into misleading advertising by Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) about the company’s commitments to climate action while continuing to finance fossil fuel development.
The Competition Bureau is a federal watchdog that is responsible for protecting consumers in Canada from companies making misleading and false statements and may fine companies who are found to be in breach of the Competition Bureau’s legislation.
The applicants, Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Eve Saint, Chloe Tse, Jennifer Roberge, Jennifer Cox, and Richard Brooks, supported by Ecojustice and Stand.earth, are requesting that the Competition Bureau investigate Canada’s largest bank, RBC, for misleadingly presenting itself as taking action on climate change thataligns with the Paris Agreement. In truth, the bank continues to fund the fossil fuel industry with tens of billions of dollars each year.
RBC ranks fifth among the 60 largest banks worldwide in terms of fossil fuel financing between 2016 and 2021. The bank claims that it “supports the principles of the Paris Agreement” and has committed to achieving net-zero emissions in its lending and investments by 2050.
To meet these claims, RBC must make immediate and significant reductions in its own emissions and its financing of high-emitting clients in alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement, which include limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, in 2021, RBC’s financing of fossil fuel companies totalled $34.4 billion in loans and underwriting and $50.4 billion in investments.
Since the Paris Agreement was signed in December 2015, RBC has provided a total of $201 billion USD in loans and underwriting services to the fossil fuel industry.
RBC’s fossil fuel financing includes funding TC Energy, the company behind the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a fracked gas pipeline in northern British Columbia that has an estimated $6.6 billion price tag. This pipeline is currently violating Indigenous rights and sovereignty in Wet’suwet’en territory because it lacks the consent from Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. RBC is the top commercial bank providing the Coastal GasLink pipeline with working capital while acting as a financial advisor for the pipeline.
In March 2022, 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. In addition to Coastal GasLink, RBC is pouring millions into Russian oil and gas corporations, including Russian-oligarch-controlled Evraz which is producing steel for the pipeline.
According to the International Energy Agency, as of 2021, financing the expansion of fossil fuel development does not align with the emissions reductions needed to achieve the Paris Agreement goals – in particular giving the world the chance to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The six applicants argue that until RBC stops funding fossil fuel expansion and develops credible plans that phase out fossil fuel financing, it should not be able to advertise itself as supporting the principles of the Paris Agreement or aiming to achieve net-zero emissions targets by 2050.
The six applicants are requesting that the Competition Bureau open an inquiry into RBC’s climate claims and fossil fuel financing. If the Competition Bureau’s inquiry confirms that RBC’s statements are misleading and false, the applicants are asking that the Competition Bureau impose a fine of $10 million to be available for Indigenous-led organizations to use for the purposes of climate mitigation and adaptation in Canada.
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said: “RBC is deceiving the public by claiming to be taking climate action while expanding its financing of climate-destroying fossil fuels. Climate change disproportionately impacts Indigenous peoples around the world as well as here in Canada. Until RBC stops financing fossil fuels, advertising itself as Paris Agreement-aligned is greenwashing — and it shouldn’t be tolerated. The UBCIC Chiefs Council has called on RBC to take immediate and substantive action to phase out fossil fuel financing and we will continue to hold RBC to account.”
Eve Saint, Wet’suwet’en Land Defender and Financial Campaigner, Gidimt’en Checkpoint, said: “Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs recently traveled across Canada to address RBC at its AGM about its investment in the Coastal Gaslink project – a project that has violated so many of the Wet’suwet’en’s Indigenous rights, including by militarized attacks on the Wet’suwet’en. However, the Chiefs were met with disrespect and brushed off. RBC’s continued funding of fossil fuel infrastructure like Coastal Gaslink contributes directly to climate chaos and undermines reconciliation in Canada.”
Richard Brooks, Climate Finance Director, Stand.earth, said: “Just months after it signed onto the United Nations’ Global Financial Alliance for Net-Zero, RBC continues to finance Indigenous rights violating projects like Coastal Gaslink while professing to be a climate leader. This is disingenuous greenwashing at best, and unlawful at worst. It’s time for RBC to cut the empty rhetoric, stop working against Canada’s climate goals, and start aligning its financing with science and justice. That means an end to financing fossil fuel companies building new pipelines, drill sites, mines, and gas power plants, and driving climate chaos.”
Matt Hulse, Ecojustice lawyer said: “RBC has claimed that it will achieve net-zero in its lending by 2050 and will come out with targets and draft plans over the next two years, but this commitment is undermined by RBC’s continued financing of fossil fuels and its failure to account for the bulk of emissions from the fossil fuel financing it provides. Without a credible plan, RBC is just making an unverified promise to clients that it will act eventually. Any financing of further fossil fuel expansion undermines the principles of the Paris Agreement, particularly the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. By continuing to finance fossil fuel expansion, RBC is misleading its clients by stating that RBC supports the Paris Agreement and is committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.”
Jennifer Roberge, Pour Nos Enfants/For Our Kids Montreal, said: “As a mother, I am most fearful for my children’s future if we cannot reach critical climate change goals. Large banks like RBC are contributing to climate change by continuing to invest in fossil fuels. It’s time RBC and the rest of them are honest about their lack of action and step up to make real change.”
Chloe Tse, Fridays for the Future Toronto/Banking on a Better Future, said: “With the ongoing climate crisis in mind, I try to be smart about where I put my money. RBC is my bank and based on all of their messaging, I thought they cared about my future too, and that they were investing in it. After looking at all the data on RBC’s loans, underwritings, and investments in fossil fuel companies, I feel betrayed by their pursuit of short-term profit over being truthful to me and investing in a safe future.”
NOTES TO THE EDITOR:
In a YouTube video available online replete with images of the elements of a low-carbon economy (e.g. windmills, solar panels, EV charging stations, trees), RBC showcases a Climate Blueprint – omitting its billions of investment in fossil fuel extraction.
To view the Competition Bureau Complaint filed April 19, visit this link.
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson is the Chief of the Skat’sin te Secwepemc-Neskonlith Indian Band, a First Nation community located in the south central part of British Columbia. Kukpi7 Wilson is also the Secretary-Treasurer for the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), which passed a resolution in February 2021 calling on Canadian banks to cease funding the climate crisis and Indigenous rights violations.
Eve Saint is a Wet’suwet’en Land Defender at the Gidimt’en Checkpoint, and is striving to protect Wet’suwet’en territory and the climate from fossil fuel developments such as the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, a fracked gas pipeline that is funded in part by RBC. Eve is an RBC client.
Chloe Tse is a Climate Justice Organizer at Fridays for Future Toronto, a local chapter of the youth-led global climate strike movement in Tkaronto (Toronto, Ontario), as well as Banking on a Better Future, a national youth-led organization educating youth on the relationship between finance and climate change. Chloe is an RBC client.
Jennifer Roberge is a volunteer with For Our Kids Montreal, a group of families working together for climate justice in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal, Quebec). Jennifer is a small business owner and is an RBC client.
Jennifer Cox is a volunteer with For Our Kids Ottawa, a community of families who have come together to tackle the climate emergency in Ottawa, Ontario (unceded Algonquin Anishinabe territory). Jennifer is an RBC client.
Richard Brooks is the Climate Finance Director at Stand.earth, an NGO created to challenge corporations and governments to treat people and the environment with respect. Richard is based in Tkaronto.