Climate activists target oil and gas banks in global day of action

On Friday afternoon, the small group gathered in front of the Royal Bank of Canada headquarters on Bay Street in Toronto didn’t take up much space, until they did.

Just after 2 p.m., the gathered climate justice advocates dispersed across the Wellington Street intersection, bicycles and a motorized wheelchair and their users in front and, after a moment of tension with the first two drivers inconvenienced by the action, set up a camp which lasted for the remainder of the working day.

After they swept the streetcar tracks and installed an audio system, organizers used cardboard cutouts and paint to create a distorted version of RBC’s lion logo eaten by a bear.

The message was #RBCisKillingMe, and the institution most invested in fossil fuel projects among Canada’s five largest banks, was the primary target – but not the only one – at the Toronto event for this Global Day. action.

“That’s all,” said Rivka Goetz, a 21-year-old University of Toronto student involved with a climate justice group there. “We’re here in the Financial District, our banner here has all the logos over there, the Filthy Five is the new tagline that everyone is saying. All of these big five banks in Canada are heavily funding fossil fuels. ”

Campus activists got a big victory for the university earlier this week when it agreed to immediately begin divesting its $ 4 billion endowment fund of fossil fuel investments.

“If we are to do something to curb the climate crisis, we have to stop giving our money and our power to fossil fuel companies,” Goetz said. “We don’t have enough time to rely solely on political decisions.”

The global action comes just before COP26, the United Nations climate change conference, where world leaders will try to agree on a range of issues related to the technical, logistical, financial and ideological areas of the crisis.

In Vancouver, around 200 people gathered on the sidewalk next to RBC’s main office in Vancouver and erected a two-story inflatable mannequin of RBC President David McKay.

For an hour, speakers harassed the bank, asking it to stop funding oil and gas, especially the controversial Coastal GasLink pipeline.

RBC has invested some $ 208 billion in fossil fuels since the Paris agreement, according to Greenpeace, including $ 6 billion for TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline project, which will transport fracking natural gas from Dawson Creek through the Rockies and other chains to Kitimat, BC, until exported to Asian customers.

This pipeline crosses unceded Wet’suwet’en territory, where there has been sustained resistance to the project. A hereditary chief of one of the five bands of the Wet’suwet’en Nation was one of two people arrested in a blockade outside a labor camp earlier this week, CTV BC reported .

Zoe, a 21-year-old woman from the Musqueam Nation who declined to share her last name, said each of her friends had a pipeline running through their home country.

The pipelines “destroy the land and our connection to it,” Zoe said.

“The land is all we have,” she said.

Esme Decker, a 19-year-old English student and Climate Justice UBC organizer, said the main message from the Vancouver protest was to pressure RBC to revoke funding for the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

“We are here on this global day of action ahead of COP26 because this conference is about climate finance,” Decker said.

“We are here to pressure Canada’s largest fossil fuel financier – RBC – to exit all fossil fuels,” she said.

Even short of divestment, Decker said his group wanted RBC and the B.C. government to honor the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires free, prior and informed consent for projects on Indigenous Peoples. indigenous lands, which she said the Coastal GasLink project did not.

“I hope the (political) leaders see this movement in the world and really take it to heart,” Decker said.

Severn Cullis-Suzuki, executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation and daughter of famous environmentalist David Suzuki, urged the bank to pull out of all oil and gas, which she called “a declining industry.”

She made a special appeal to Freda Huson, a Wet’suwet’en chief and one of the main land defenders who have faced the Coastal GasLink pipeline for over a decade.

“No other generation has stayed where we are today. We, alive today, are the keepers of history. It’s our watch, but we have so many ancestors accompanying us, ”she said.

After a series of speeches, the activists held a ceremony honoring RBC President McKay for being the largest fossil fuel funder in Canada, as well as for the “leading role” they played in funding. of oil and gas projects around the world.

Chemi Lhamo, left, showed up in Toronto in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and to make sure Tibet is part of the climate justice conversation. Photo by Morgan Sharp

Back in Toronto, solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en and other Indigenous peoples was one of the main reasons Chemi Lhamo claimed the street.

“We are currently going at a rate that will kill Mother Earth,” said the 25-year-old. “Everyone already knows that we are in a climate crisis and much of what we have already done and the damage we have done on Mother Earth is irreversible, and so time is running out, and we must act now. ”

She said she was also there as a Tibetan, noting that conversations about climate justice are unfolding around the world but that “Tibet has been left out” despite countries and regions downstream of it. the mountainous region controlled by China facing both floods and droughts caused by the redirecting of the world’s largest emitter via dams.

“It’s a call to action for all world leaders who proclaim human rights and talk about all progressive ideas, talk about going net-zero at a certain age,” she said. “The current conditions on Earth are such that we cannot afford to have all these false promises of being net-zero. It’s about putting your money where your mouth is instead of putting your money in. all these pipelines and all these things that are causing irreversible damage to our Earth.

This article was co-reported and co-authored by Jesse Winter, an award-winning photographer and writer currently based in Vancouver, BC.

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