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Twenty-five years ago, when I first lobbied a senior federal Liberal political staffer about the urgency of action on climate change, the individual replied: “Sure, Canadians want action on climate, but they don’t want it very much. You don’t see anyone getting arrested over it, do you?”

Well, now you do.

On Feb. 15, I went to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s constituency office in Toronto with eight others, one of whom wasn't even born when I had that meeting. I was escorted out in handcuffs by police and charged with trespassing.

Police escort a handcuffed Keith Stewart out of Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s downtown Toronto office after Greenpeace activists staged a sit-in protest demanding Freeland regulate banks’ fossil fuel funding in the 2024 federal budget. Photo via Greenpeace Canada

We were there because we had seen the Liberal government’s wavering in the face of an aggressive campaign by oil lobbyists and Conservative politicians to roll back or delay measures to phase out the fossil fuels causing climate change.

We are resolved to be fierce in the defence of phasing in green energy solutions in a way that protects people and the planet. We had seen the wildfires that drove more than 160,000 Canadians from their homes last year, the drought now threatening water supplies on the Prairies and the eerie, snowless winter in Toronto.

We were there to say that when it comes to climate action, later is too late.

We knew Freeland might not be in her constituency office because she’s busy writing the 2024 budget. So we left behind some gifts, including a large photo of former chief Patrick Michell of the Kanaka Bar Indian Band and his wife Tina Grenier in front of the home they lost in the devastating 2021 wildfire that destroyed the village of Lytton, B.C., a burnt remnant from the Lytton fire, and a copy of Fire Weather, John Vaillant’s masterful tale of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire and how our collective failure to act on climate change made it possible.

We knew that hundreds of her constituents had already written to her asking her to use her authority as finance minister to regulate banks so they do their share to fund solutions. We asked her to put that commitment in the budget she is now writing because although public investments are important, we also need to align private finance with our climate goals.

We are resolved to be fierce in the defence of phasing in green energy solutions in a way that protects people and the planet, writes @climatekeith @greenpeaceQC @cafreeland #FossilFuels #RenewableEnergy #ClimateChange #cdnpoli #banks

On this, we (sort of) found an unlikely ally in RBC, Canada’s largest bank that recently said business funding for climate action needs to "rise exponentially" for Canada to be on track for net-zero emissions by 2050. That sounds great until you learn that between 2016 and 2022, RBC was the fifth-largest funder of fossil fuels in the world and only provides 37 cents in clean energy funding for every dollar that goes to fossil fuels (one of the worst ratios amongst major global banks).

Those numbers are why we need to regulate financed emissions from banks the way we do pollution from tailpipes and smokestacks. As finance minister, Freeland is the person who can do it. There’s already a private member’s bill, the Climate Aligned Finance Act, working its way through the Senate that she could use as her starting point.

Yet, Freeland is also deputy prime minister, which means only Justin Trudeau himself holds more sway around the cabinet table. So we wanted to bring our case directly to her. No more delay or watering down of the long-promised regulations designed to clean up our electricity grid, switch from gas-powered to electric vehicles and put a cap on carbon pollution from the oil and gas sector.

Freeland isn’t someone who speaks with any great passion on climate change. Climate change isn’t even mentioned in her most famous book, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, which lays out how oligarchs undermine the very systems that made them wealthy and powerful.

Vaillant’s Fire Weather is a perfect complement to Plutocrats because it shows how the unchecked pursuit of fossil fuels is undermining the web of life upon which we all depend. I sincerely hope Freeland — and every other politician in Canada — absorbs its lesson.

When it comes to climate action, later is too late.

Keith Stewart is senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada and one of the activists arrested at Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office during a peaceful protest on Feb. 15, 2024.

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Thanks Keith and Greenpeace for this action. Let is inspire others.

Thank you Keith Stewart for your actions. We need more of this.