As chants of “RBC is killing me!” rose from the courtyard below, a coalition of students unfurled a two-storey banner from the roof of the University of British Columbia’s students union building. A bright spring sun illuminated the banner’s message: “RBC f*ck off. End fossil finance now.” Our voices joined protests at 12 universities across the country that took part in the #RBCOffCampus day of action, calling for the big bank to divest from fossil fuels or get off our campuses.
Sparked by grief and anxiety for the planet’s uncertain future, and galvanized by the collective power embodied in the record-breaking Fridays for Future strikes of 2019, I (Jaden) knew I needed to do something. I joined a group of young people to found Banking on a Better Future (BBF). During the height of COVID-19 in April 2021, this collective of young organizers from across the country united to take on the biggest funders of the climate crisis in Canada: the Big Five Canadian banks.
A year later, our movement has grown and spread to include 15 university campus groups organizing against fossil fuel financing and especially RBC, Canada’s biggest fossil fuel financier.
Inspired by high school climate strikes and building on the success of the university divestment movement, a new era of student organizers is turning its attention to Canada’s banks. As we digest the latest IPCC report, we know that failure to reduce fossil fuel production will put billions of lives at risk.
The banks are partly to blame.
By pouring more money than ever into the industry most responsible for climate change, the Big Five banks are undermining any chance of limiting planetary warming to 1.5 C — a target scientists tell us is necessary to preserve a livable future for our generation and those to come. Between 2020 and 2021, Canadian banks increased their fossil fuel financing by over 70 per cent. Funding for the tar sands, one of the most polluting methods of fossil fuel production, increased by 51 per cent alone.
RBC is the worst offender. So bad, in fact, that the Canadian Competition Bureau has opened an inquiry into greenwashing practices amid allegations the bank is making false and misleading claims about its environmental commitments. The investigation was prompted by the activism of six environmental justice and Indigenous advocates, including BBF’s Chloe Tse, Kukpi7 Judy Wilson (chief of the Skat’sin te Secwepemc-Neskonlith Indian Band), and Wet’suwet’en land defender Eve Saint.
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson is 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 financing the climate crisis and Indigenous rights violations.”
Eve Saint is striving to protect Wet’suwet’en territory from fossil fuel developments like Coastal GasLink, which is funded in part by RBC and continues to violate the traditional rights and title of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
@bank4future has grown to include 15 university campus groups against fossil fuel financing and especially @RBC, Canada’s biggest fossil fuel backer, writes Jaden L. Phillips @wizard_008 #ClimateStrike #ClimateAction #RBCOffCampus #FossilFoolsDay
RBC is also the lead financer of Coastal GasLink, which is actively opposed by the Wet’suwet’en Nation and who have not consented to the project. Last week, the C-IRG unit of the RCMP raided Gidim’ten camp on the Wet’suwet’en Yintah, arresting five land defenders.
The C-IRG is a controversial policing unit, currently under investigation by the RCMP watchdog amidst criticism that it violates charter rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Wet’suwet’en land defenders have faced violence and surveillance at the hands of the RCMP and private security since the beginning of the Coastal GasLink project. This is modern-day colonial violence. RBC is bankrolling it.
RBC specifically targets young people because we are both a key customer demographic and represent the young talent that can be funnelled into the bank’s workforce. The bank places RBC on Campus chapters in our schools and tries to sell us an image of sustainability, but we see through it. RBC’s investments are fuelling climate chaos and directly threatening our future. We’re the exact demographic they wish to capture, which means we have a lot of power. If enough of us move our own money and take action to get fossil-funder banks off our campuses, the banks will have to divest — or else lose a generation’s trust and face damage to its brand and bottom line.
RBC’s 2023 annual general meeting will be held on April 5 in Saskatoon. RBC shareholders have put forward resolutions to hold the bank to account on climate and Indigenous rights.
We are calling on RBC to live up to its climate commitments: respect Indigenous nations’ rights to free, prior and informed consent, defund CGL, and commit to true divestment from fossil fuel production.
While RBC and the other Big Five banks continue driving the climate crisis, they have no place on university campuses. We call on banks to fund our futures, not climate change. Until they do, we’re kicking them out.
Lea Anderson is a youth climate activist, climate wellbeing lead at the UBC Climate Hub, and master’s student of resources, environment and sustainability whose research explores the intersections of wellbeing and transformative change for sustainability.
Jaden Phillips is a youth climate activist & third-culture-kid from Toronto with a background in environmental science & currently pursuing an MSc in climate change communication (with a focus on galvanizing youth into climate action) at UBC.