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University of Waterloo: Call on RBC to stop funding climate chaos

By: Lesley Johnston, Sama Nanayakkara, and Nicholas Palmieri

The University of Waterloo’s strategic plan recognizes “that accelerating climate change will magnify existing societal issues, with marginalized communities being among the most affected.” The plan goes on to state that students, employees, partners, and stakeholders around the world will be looking to UWaterloo to be a leader that can demonstrate to all how to take transformative action as we work for a sustainable future.

UW is working to live up to this commitment. For instance, in 2021, UWaterloo made a praiseworthy and necessary commitment to achieve 100% carbon neutrality in both its pension and endowment fund by 2040. We are proud of the actions and direction UW has taken in this climate fight. 

This is precisely why we, UW students concerned about the climate crisis, are disappointed by the recent news of an expanded partnership with RBC to bolster the Bachelor of Sustainability and Financial Management program. We, of course, recognize the importance of building students’ skills beyond practicing accounting and financial management, so they can meet the challenges of the day with a better understanding of environmental law, social equality, carbon emissions, and ecosystem science. Rather, we are concerned with UW’s choice of partner.

RBC is the top fossil fuel financier in Canada and fifth in the world. They have invested over $201 billion in fossil fuels just since the Paris Agreement and their estimated emissions from loans and project finance are 38 million tonnes of CO2. Yet simultaneously, RBC is spreading a message of youth empowerment with the RBC Future Launch campaign. “Youth deserve a better chance,” they claim.

We agree with RBC there. Youth and future generations are owed action by the current generation in power to minimize the climate crisis while they can.

The hypocrisy of investing in youth while funding climate change is infuriating. While RBC has committed $500 billion to “sustainable financing” by 2025, they continue to fund fossil fuel expansion with no sign of stopping.

RBC has provided more than $9.2 billion of fossil fuel financing and have underwritten projects from fossil fuel expansionists like Enbridge, ExxonMobil, Chevron, TC Energy, and Saudi Aramco since the Paris Agreement. RBC provided $1.94 billion dollars to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project. It is also financing the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, in opposition to Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are opposed to the pipeline’s construction on traditional Indigenous land. 

Unsurprisingly, RBC is currently under investigation by the Competition Bureau of Canada “for misrepresenting its climate credentials for the purpose of marketing its investments and financial products”. 

By openly accepting and praising RBC’s donation without any mention of RBC’s contribution to the climate crisis, the University of Waterloo is complicit in minimizing the issue. Donating in the name of “sustainability” helps institutions like RBC divert attention from their unsustainable activities to preserve their image and continue to increase their profits.

It is our responsibility as a privileged community to take action against this. We cannot accept the hypocrisy of RBC who commits to helping “young Canadians prepare for a drastically changing workforce,” while simultaneously investing in the destruction of their future.

UWaterloo rightly declared the climate crisis as an emergency in 2019, recognizing “the urgency of the climate crisis” and the need to “strengthen its commitment to taking bold climate action”. UW understands that action involves urgently reducing dependence on fossil fuels. We therefore request that President Goel and the UW Board of Governors use their influence to call out RBC’s continued greenwashing efforts and to stand with us in demanding that those with the most power to change our economy do so, and make the same commitment that UW has to future generations. 

If RBC wishes to follow through with its voiced commitment to young people’s futures and to combating climate change, its greenwashing must be replaced by green action. Beginning with transparency and taking accountability for what its money endorses, RBC must make verifiable changes to its practices before it can claim to support a sustainable future. We believe it is important for all institutions, especially those in the business of guiding the future, to fight climate change in every possible way. UWaterloo, we hope you will join us in calling out greenwashing and stand with your students, so that together we can fight for our future. 

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