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Greenpeace Canada activists occupied Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office on Thursday morning and two are now fined for trespassing, the group said.

One of those fined is Keith Stewart, Greenpeace Canada’s senior energy strategist. In a phone interview, he told Canada’s National Observer that nine activists entered Freeland’s constituency office in Toronto to draw attention to Finance Canada’s insufficient climate action. The group also brought a burned kettle and a charred metal case from a child’s protractor kit found after the devastating Lytton fire that razed the British Columbia village in 2021.

“Sometimes, you have to really grab someone's attention and the way I look at it is, when you look at the history of big social changes, they've always involved people taking direct action like this and we can no longer take, 'We'll get to that later' as an answer,” he said.

Stewart said the burned objects were given to Greenpeace by the community to bring to policymakers to help make the climate crisis more real. The climate crisis isn’t abstract, he said. It’s impacting people’s lives right now, he noted, adding that later is too late when it comes to climate action.

As Ottawa prepares this year’s federal budget, Stewart said Greenpeace Canada is demanding two things from Freeland.

“The first is no more rollbacks or delays on promised climate measures,” he said, pointing to potential loopholes being slipped into the forthcoming oil and gas emissions cap, and carbon tax carveouts. “And then secondly, we're asking her to include in the 2024 budget announcement that they're going to regulate the banks on climate finance.”

For years, climate advocates have urged Ottawa to regulate Canada’s financial sector to achieve emissions reductions. Many environmental organizations — including Environmental Defence, the Canadian Climate Law Initiative, Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health, and dozens of others — have endorsed Independent Sen. Rosa Galvez’s Climate Aligned Finance Act to help achieve a climate-safe financial system.

The proposed legislation is almost two years old and provides a groundbreaking set of rules to align the financial sector with Canada’s emission reduction targets. Finance Canada has not publicly supported the legislation, even as calls from other MPs to adopt it have grown.

Freeland's office did not return a request for comment by deadline.

“Protecting our banking system from the climate crisis is something that the ministry hasn't wrapped its head around." #cdnpoli
Greenpeace Canada members in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s constituency office. Photo via Greenpeace Canada

As Finance Canada avoids regulating the financial sector, it’s also ignoring key recommendations provided to it by its own expert body, Stewart said.

In September 2022, the Sustainable Finance Action Council handed Finance Canada a set of recommendations on how to help align the financial sector with sustainability goals. A top priority was developing a “sustainable finance taxonomy” to define sustainability terms and make it clear to investors what counts and what doesn’t if you’re going to claim investments are sustainable.

Freeland’s office has yet to turn the expert recommendations into binding rules that would help financial institutions align with federal climate targets.

“Protecting our banking system from the climate crisis is something that the ministry hasn't wrapped its head around,” Stewart said. “We don't want them to do this just because it's good for the climate, it's also going to be good for people's bank accounts because we're going to reduce exposure to climate-related risks and that is key.

“The banks aren't going to do this on their own, and asking them nicely doesn't get you very far,” he said. “They do, however, comply with the law ... and that's why we actually need rules, not suggestions.”

As climate change continues to worsen and the burning of fossil fuels pumps more carbon emissions into the atmosphere, there will be significant financial risks on top of all the known negative environmental, human health and biodiversity impacts.

The Canadian economy alone could take a $5.5-trillion hit by the end of the century due to climate change, according to research from Queen’s University’s Institute for Sustainable Finance. The same study also found that limiting global warming to the Paris Agreement’s goal of no more than 2 C would save trillions of dollars.