When TD pledged to achieve net-zero emissions across their financing portfolio by 2050, we said it was a gamechanger (because the other banks would have to do the same) and a greenwash (because they had no commitments regarding short-term actions). When RBC made a similar pledge in February, we pointed out that net-zero lending in 2050 does not mean net-zero emissions in 2050 because the projects being financed today will still be operational in 2050 (even though the loans will already be paid off). When BMO made the same commitment yesterday, we initially thought “this is one more tiny step in the right direction.” But then CEO Darryl White had to take a crack at people like us who are calling for more ambitious changes in the EXACT SAME press release they used to declare their “climate ambition,” and we thought: this guy is a serious problem for the planet.
“No doubt this transition (to a low carbon economy) will be disruptive,” BMO Chief Executive Darryl White said in an online address. “While the failure to act is not an option, the sole answer cannot be an abrupt and disruptive change to individual industries.”
At the core of this statement is a refusal to accept science. For the last few years, scientists have been specifically telling us that our only remaining hope of achieving a stable climate is abrupt and disruptive change. It might seem ‘reasonable’ or ‘moderate’ to balance climate goals and economic goals, but physics doesn’t care how much money you’ve invested into fossil fuels.
Sorry, Darryl. You don’t get to pretend to be voice of reason when you spent DECADES resisting the kind of moderate incremental change that you yourself are now calling for after everyone else has moved on. Abrupt and disruptive change is the sole answer because the banks missed every opportunity to do things in a slow and methodical way. And the same voices they are now trying to paint as ‘extreme’ were the ones asking them to do the reasonable thing – DECADES AGO. Greenpeace Canada, Toronto350 and others have been protesting the big banks’ loans and investments to the fossil fuel industry for as long as I can remember. There is an international organization called BankTrack whose entire mission is to persuade banks and other financial institutions to take the environmental crisis seriously. They were founded EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO.
BMO has made most of the same guarantees and joined most of the same industry groups as TD and RBC and even signed on to the UN Principles for Responsible Banking which none of the other big banks have done. There are obviously people within the bank trying to make amends for the damage they have already done to the planet – but having a statement like that, from their CEO, in their declaration of ambition is a giant red flag.
Why is this statement so concerning? Because the banks are all making vague pledges with a lot of wiggle room. They are all pledging to set clear metrics and start taking concrete action ‘soon.’ In some ways this makes sense, it takes time to determine the carbon footprint of a vast financial empire and figure out which actions will bring it down most quickly. A pledge to investigate and take action is only as good as the leadership’s commitment to actually reducing emissions. None of the big 5 Canadian banks have taken the type of actions the climate crisis demands of them yet, but Darryl White has clearly telegraphed that BMO is unlikely to take those actions any time soon.