Canadian banks still investing in yesterday’s economy – fossil fuels

offshore oil rigBanking on Climate Change – Fossil Fuel Finance Report Card 2019 , the 10th annual report by BankTrack and a coalition of advocacy groups, has been expanded to include coal and gas investors, as well as oil, as it ranks and exposes the  investment practices of 33 of the world’s largest banks. The newly-released report for this year reveals that $1.9 trillion has been invested in these fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement, with the four biggest investors  all U.S. banks – JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America. But Canadian banks rank high: RBC ranks fifth, TD ranks 8th, Scotiabank ranks 9th, and Bank of Montreal ranks 15th.  Among those investing in tar sands oil : “five of the top six tar sands bankers between 2016 and 2018 are Canadian, with RBC and TD by far the two worst.”

In addition to the investment tallies, the report  analyzes the banks’ performance on human rights, particularly Indigenous rights, as it relates to the impacts of specific fossil fuel projects, and climate change in general.  The report also describes key themes, such as tar sands investment, Arctic oil, and fracking.

In response to the Banking on Climate Change report, SumofUs has mounted an online petition It’s time for TD, RBC and Scotiabank stop funding climate chaos.    An Opinion piece in The Tyee,  “How Citizens can stop the big five ” calls for a citizens strike on Canadian banks – particularly by young people and future mortgage investors, and points out the alternatives: credit unions, non-bank mortgage brokers, and ethical investment funds, (such as Genus Capital of Vancouver ).  But while individual Canadians can make ethical choices, that doesn’t seem to be the path of our public pension plan, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which manages $356.1 billion of our savings.  On March 19, Reuters reported that the CPPIB  will invest $1.34 billion to obtain a 35% share in  a $3.8 billion joint venture with U.S. energy firm Williams to finance gas pipeline assets in the Marcellus and Utica shale basins.

Investment attitudes are shifting away from fossils:  The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund continues to lead the way: In March, it announced it would divest almost $8 billion in investments in 134 companies that explore for oil and gas; in April, it  announced it will  invest in renewable energy projects that are not listed on stock markets – a huge marekt and a significant signal to the investment community, as described in   “Historic breakthrough’: Norway’s giant oil fund dives into renewables” in The Guardian (April 5) .

In Canada, with the Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance   scheduled to report shortly, the Bank of Canada announced on March 27 that it has joined the  Central Banks’ and Supervisors’ Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), an international body established in December 2017 to promote best practices in climate risk management for the financial sector.  (This is despite the fact that Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz discussed the vulnerabilities and risks in Canada’s financial system in his year-end progress report in December  2018   – without ever mentioning climate change. )  In the U.S., on March 25, the head of the  Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released Climate Change and the Federal Reserve  , which states: “In this century, three key forces are transforming the economy: a demographic shift toward an older population, rapid advances in technology, and climate change.”  A discussion of both these developments appears in “Bank of Canada commits to probing climate liabilities” in The National Observer (March 27) .

And if we needed more proof that coal is a dying industry:  The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis released Over 100 Global Financial Institutions Are Exiting Coal, With More to Come  in February, drawing on the ongoing and growing  list of banks which have stopped investing in new coal development, as maintained by BankTrack.   The detailed IEEFA report states that “34 coal divestment/restriction policy announcements have been made by globally significant financial institutions since the start of 2018. In the first nine weeks of 2019, there have been five new announcements of banks and insurers divesting from coal. Global capital is fleeing the thermal coal sector.”  Proof: global mining giant Glencore announced on February 20 that it would cap its coal production at current levels in  “Furthering Our Commitment to the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy. “

Scrap the Infrastructure Bank, says CUPE

GO transit stationThe federal government first announced its plans for an Infrastructure Bank in the Fall 2016 Economic Statement, and fleshed out an implementation schedule and funding in the Budget released in March 2017   .  The  Infrastructure Bank website here  describes: “If approved by Parliament, the Bank would invest $35 billion from the federal government into transformative infrastructure projects.  $15 billion would be sourced from the over $180 billion Investing in Canada infrastructure plan, including: $5 billion for public transit systems; $5 billion for trade and transportation corridors; and, $5 billion for green infrastructure projects, including those that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, deliver clean air and safe water systems, and promote renewable power.”  It will function as an arms-length Crown corporation “and would work with provincial, territorial, municipal, Indigenous, and private sector investment partners to attract pension funds and other institutional investors to new revenue-generating infrastructure projects that are in the public interest.”  A May 13 press release from the responsible Minister of Infrastructure and Communities announces that the selection process for senior management positions has begun, and the goal is to launch the Bank in 2017. The enabling legislation is buried deep in the enormous Bill C-44, the Budget Implementation Act  (as Division 18 of Part 4) . Bill C-44 is now in 2nd reading in the House of Commons, and the Finance Committee began a clause-by-clause review of the legislation in the week of May 29.

There is no shortage of criticism and critics of the Infrastructure Bank, from across the political spectrum.  In “Where Were They Going Without Ever Knowing the Way? Assessing the Risks and Opportunities of the Canada Infrastructure Bank”,  (May 4) economists at the University of Ottawa Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy argue that the case for the infrastructure bank is weak since Canada doesn’t yet have a comprehensive inventory of the status of existing infrastructure. (The May 18 report  submitted to Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation platform may answer some of those objections) .

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is leading the union charge of criticism , mostly on the grounds that the infrastructure bank encourages and enables privatization of public projects. Even before the March budget was delivered, CUPE Economist Toby Sanger wrote  Creating a Canadian infrastructure bank in the public interest  , published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  After the budget was delivered,  CUPE’s initial response  was published in April .  In May, CUPE compiled expert criticisms here   , and on May 29, the union issued the call to  “Scrap bank of privatization, build infrastructure for Canadians” . CUPE also presented a detailed brief  to government committees in May, with ten points of criticism and recommendations for change so that public bridges, roads and waterways remain under public control.

Renewable energy news: Alberta, Ontario, U.S. and International statistics show a “broad shift to clean energy” investment

As part of its Climate Leadership Plan, Alberta launched  the Alberta Indigenous Solar Program (AISP)  and the Alberta Indigenous Community Energy Program (AICEP)  on October 5.  With a total budget of  $2.5 million, the two programs are directed at First Nations and Metis communities,  to undertake pilot projects for renewable energy and energy efficiency audits.  Alberta next issued a Request for Information (RFI)   on October 6,  for procuring solar power for half of government operations , anticipating that it will  lead to Western Canada’s first solar farm.  See “Here comes the sun: Alberta Plans to establish first solar farms”   from the Edmonton Journal (Oct. 6)  and an item that appeared before the government announcement,  “Growing list of solar projects in wings as Alberta moves to replace coal”  at CBC  (Sept. 15).

In a surprising change of direction at the end of September, the Ontario government announced the cancellation of a second round of renewable energy procurement that would have added 1,000 megawatts of wind and solar power to the province’s grid. Existing FIT and MicroFIT projects will be unaffected, but the government hopes to put a lid on electricity cost increases for consumers by avoiding the costs of building infrastructure. See  the government press release ;  “ Spooked Ontario Liberals Retreat From Green Goals” from  the Energy Mix    ;  “Why did the Liberals backtrack on their renewable energy plan?” from TVO,  or  “Wind Industry shocked as Ontario halts LRP Mechanism”   in North American WindPower.

In the U.S. , the federal Department of Energy  released its National Offshore Wind Strategy  on September 9,  with a goal of generating enough electricity from offshore wind to power 23 million homes.

And from the International Energy Agency in  mid-September, the first in a new annual report series, World Energy Investment 2016,  with the stated premise that investment is “ the lifeblood of the global energy system”. Statistics show the state of investment in energy across technologies, sectors and regions around the world; they reveal a “broad shift towards cleaner energy”, with $313 billion invested in renewables in 2015. Though this is flat in dollar terms, it produced 33% more energy due to improved wind and solar technology.  A further $221 billion was invested in energy efficiency.  While oil and gas investment was still tops in 2015, it declined by 25% from 2014 and is projected to decline a further 24% in 2016.

Energy Efficiency Investment Bring Jobs in US Scenario

A new report by lead authors Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier proposes a new energy investment program for the U.S., requiring public and private investment of $200 billion per year over the next 20 years, and focussing on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“Green Growth: A U.S. Program for Controlling Climate Change and Expanding Job Opportunities” argues that the U.S. can cut its carbon pollution by 40% from 2005 levels and create a net increase of 2.7 million clean energy jobs, if policies and investment undergo “a transformational shift in how we construct, finance, and deploy our energy infrastructure”. The report provides estimates of fiscal impacts and job impacts. The authors cite four essential conditions for their scenarios, one of which is “Regional equity and transitional support for communities and workers”, described as “allocating federal government clean energy investment spending equitably among all regions of the country, targeted community-adjustment assistance, extensive worker-training programs, and adjustment-assistance programs for fossil fuel workers. The national clean energy investment program can itself provide a critical base for generating new opportunities among workers and communities that are presently dependent on the fossil fuel industries”.