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Scotiabank’s exit from lobby group is a blow to oil and gas industry

The departure comes as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers seeks to counter a movement to divest from fossil fuels

Scotiabank is no longer a member of Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby group, leaving the organization without a single large Canadian bank among its ranks.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which represents dozens of fossil fuel producers including oil and gas giants like Suncor Energy and Cenovus Energy, has been able to count on Scotiabank as a prominent member for years.

The sudden departure deals a blow to the oil and gas lobby group at a time when it is seeking to counter a movement of large investment firms that say they want to divest from fossil fuels, as part of efforts to fight the climate crisis.

The bank has been a major financier of fossil fuel projects, ranking ninth in the world according to a report from a consortium of civil society groups, at US$149 billion from 2016 to 2021. It has also lobbied to delay climate transparency rules, pushing back on proposals to require companies to report the carbon pollution from their products.

The oil and gas industry association also lobbied against proposed rules to force companies to disclose their plans for dealing with a future carbon-constrained world.

Over the years, the bank and the lobby group forged a close relationship, with Scotiabank acting as the title sponsor of the association’s annual “energy symposium.” The event offered opportunities for oil and gas companies to connect with investors to fund new projects.

At the latest Scotiabank-sponsored energy symposium in April, speakers opined on the “significant opportunity” for fossil fuel producers to export higher amounts of oil and gas “for years,” despite scientific evidence that these products need to stay in the ground if the world is to meet its emissions-reduction goals.

Organizers also invited Mark Mills, a senior fellow from the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, to deliver a keynote address at the event. Mills, known for his skepticism about renewable energy and government policies to fight the climate crisis, spoke during a session entitled “A Reality Check in the Post-Ukraine World.”

In a July 2015 speech to the Heartland Institute, another right-leaning U.S.-based think tank, Mills described people who think we “should go back to nature” as “whack jobs” who are on the fringe. He also said that climate policies were based on mythology.

“There’s nothing else about climate policy other than giving money to climate scientists to genuflect to the idea that the climate apocalypse is happening,” said Mills at the 2015 event in Washington, D.C.

The comments by Mills are not consistent with accepted scientific evidence.

Governments around the world have adopted climate policies and set goals to address the climate crisis based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence that has already confirmed sweeping changes to the Earth’s ecoystems, jobs and the economy as a result of human activity. The research also confirms that disruptions will get worse in the absence of strong measures to wean society off of fossil fuels.

Scotiabank will no longer sponsor the investor symposium for the oil and gas industry in the future, as a result of its decision, a CAPP spokesperson confirmed to CBC News. Jay Averill told the public broadcaster that the lobby group is now finalizing a partner for next year’s event.

Scotiabank urged to phase out fossil fuel financing

Scotiabank’s departure from the oil lobby group is “encouraging,” said Patrick DeRochie, senior manager at Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health.

“I think that the financial industry needs to disassociate itself from industry associations that are actively trying to tank Canada’s climate goals, and obstruct, delay and prevent good climate policies from being put in place,” he said.

The bank was an associate member of the association. Associate members pay membership dues that differ depending on the organization. In 2021, associate membership dues for banks and investment companies amounted to $5,000 according to an online application form.

Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, said it was “great news that Scotiabank will no longer be paying dues to the most powerful group in the country advocating against climate action.”

“But as the ninth-largest financier of fossil fuels in the world, they could have an even bigger impact if they phase out their funding of fossil fuels which are causing the climate crisis,” he added.

Scotiabank has committed to cutting the emissions intensity from the burning of the oil and gas products it finances by 15 per cent by 2030, and the emissions intensity from oil and gas operations by 30 per cent by 2030.

Still, the bank has been criticized for not tackling absolute emissions more broadly. It has been pressured by some shareholders to change course, but recently recommended against policies to establish annual votes on its climate targets.

Scotiabank first confirmed its exit from the oil and gas lobby group to the Canadian Press, but did not provide an explanation as to why. A spokesperson acknowledged receipt of questions from The Narwhal but could not provide an answer before publication. The Manhattan Institute acknowledged receipt of questions but Mills did not respond before publication. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers did not respond to requests for comment from The Narwhal.

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We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

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