Students catch Royal Bank of Canada by surprise: question fossil fuel investment practices

February 23, 2022

Ahead of Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) anticipated quarterly earning report released tomorrow, Thursday, February 24, climate activists interrupted an RBC Career Panel at McGill University on February 11. The event, which featured senior campus recruiters and McGill alumni in RBC wealth and portfolio management invited students to come prepared with questions regarding RBC’s career opportunities and what it is like to work at RBC.

A video circulating on twitter from Banking on a Better Future shows that activists which included members of Divest McGill came to the digital session equipped with difficult questions about RBC’s fossil fuel financing.

When called on, Emily, a McGill student, asked this question: “RBC has stated their investment practices are in line with the Paris Climate Accord. Yet, in the 5 years following, RBC invested about $160 billion into fossil fuel projects. If we must stop burning fossil fuels immediately to keep the global temperature rise within safe, reversible levels, how will RBC’s continued role as the fifth largest global funder of the fossil fuel industry impact career opportunities and the future of the workforce in say, the next 10 years?” 

Gabriel Flores, a wealth management investor at RBC, responded by highlighting some of RBC’s sustainable investments such as their “half a trillion dollars” in ‘sustainable initiatives.’ He  was quick to point out that RBC does not invest in areas like new drilling projects. Flores then paraphrased RBC CEO David Mckay’s claim that we must “find a way to address the very real issues that our planet has, and balance that with pulling the rug from under some of the largest industries in our country. ”

Emily wasn’t buying it. She promptly responded by breaking down some of RBC’s ‘sustainable investments’ which include technologies such as carbon capture, storage, and offsets. Heavy reliance on these technologies, she said, will likely result in delays to the necessary transition away from fossil fuels. The moderator’s and Flores’ approach soured as they indicated that our questions were inappropriate and unwelcome on a career panel. In his final remarks, Flores said “it’s one thing to focus on all of the things that are wrong, but let’s also remember that on the other side of that coin there are things that are actually quite right.” Unsatisfied with Flores’ greenwashing, deflection, and gaslighting, students held up signs reading “RBC divest now” and “Defund Coastal Gaslink” before leaving the call.

“Our ideal would be for RBC to take notice of what’s happening. Not only us, but many, many people across the country have also been doing similar actions and really calling on RBC to divest from fossil fuels and start making big investments in renewable energy—to really protect our futures instead of continuing to disrespect Indigenous rights and polluting the earth,” said Samantha Lin, a Queens student and member of Youth and Climate Action in an interview with The Journal.

Students on campuses are beginning to pay attention to RBC’s recruitment tactics and are organizing to make it clear that RBC’s reputation is at risk among their potential future workers. This interruption comes months after students at Queens University interrupted David McKay’s visit to a “Road to CEO” event at the Smith School of Business on November 5th 2021, and ahead of the fossil bank’s April 7 annual shareholder meeting.