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Despite calls for change, Canada's RBC is one of world's top bankers to fossil fuel industry – CBC.ca

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Canadian banks have a serious fossil fuel addiction. But it is not just a Canadian problem.

The latest study of corporate data from 60 of the world’s largest banks shows that rather than cutting back on the funding of fossil fuel projects since the 2016 global agreement to limit greenhouse gases, they have increased that funding to $3.8 trillion US in the past five years.

The report outlining the data, titled Banking on Climate Chaos 2021, is the 12th annual tally of fossil fuel financing by a group of seven climate advocacy organizations, including Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club, both based in the United States.

The good news for those concerned about climate change is that a crash in the fossil fuel business during the COVID-19 pandemic led to a sharp drop in investment growth in 2020, but the report’s authors fear that a growing recovery this year will lead to a “snap back to business as usual.”

Although U.S. banks, including JPMorgan Chase, have committed to establishing emissions targets for their financing portfolios in line with the Paris climate accord, the report declares that North America’s biggest bank has also been “the world’s worst fossil bank” over the past five years, lending $317 billion to the industry.

RBC punches above its weight

And while U.S. banks lead the pack, Canada’s RBC has the dubious honour of punching above its weight. Four Canadian banks are in the top 20, including RBC, TD, Scotiabank and Bank of Montreal.

“Citi follows as the second-worst fossil bank, followed by Wells Fargo, Bank of America, RBC and MUFG [Mitsubishi],” the fossil fuel finance report says. “Barclays is the worst in Europe and Bank of China is the worst in China.”

Despite repeated calls by people like former central banker Mark Carney and business leaders such as Larry Fink, CEO of investment giant BlackRock, for companies to decarbonize to avoid risks to the entire economic system, people close to Canada’s banking industry say banks like RBC are having trouble changing direction.

“There’s a lot in the Canadian psyche and history that is wrapped up in the fossil fuel economy, and we’re feeling some of that inertia right now,” said Laura Zizzo, co-founder and CEO of Manifest Climate, a Toronto company that advises financial institutions across North America on strategies to help them navigate climate change.

Working closely with Canada’s big banks — though she wouldn’t say whether RBC was one of her clients — Zizzo said she is convinced that people at the highest corporate levels really are committed to change. It’s just happening more slowly than many who fear the impact of climate change would like to see.

Responding to my question asking why Canada’s biggest bank continued to lend such large amounts — $160 billion over the past five years — to the fossil fuel industry and its projects, RBC reaffirmed its commitment to net zero emissions, including a promise of $500 billion in sustainable finance by 2025. It said it was also the first bank to commit not to lend to resource projects in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

RBC has committed to net zero carbon emissions in its portfolio, but a new report says it has loaned more money to the fossil fuel industry in the past five years than any other bank in Canada. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

But in a country where there is so much political and economic pressure for oil and gas development, RBC said that to be successful, its move to net zero must be gradual.

“This transition is vitally important and it must be done in an inclusive manner that brings all sectors and communities along or we won’t achieve the support we need to meet these goals,” RBC said in an email.

Bad for banks, as well as the climate

As Carney — who was governor of both the Bank of Canada and Bank of England before becoming head of impact investing at Brookfield Asset Management — has warned in the past, when financial institutions take a stake in long-term fossil fuel projects, it is not just bad for the climate.

In order to hold temperatures at levels scientists say are necessary to keep temperature rise to 2 C, experts say the value of fossil fuel investments must fall to zero in about 30 years. Carney and others say a rush to get out of those investments as the crisis worsens could create a financial risk for the entire economy and for institutions such as banks, pension funds and insurance companies.

Former central banker Mark Carney, addressing the United Nations Climate Change Conference in London in February 2020, has warned that when financial institutions take a stake in long-term fossil fuel projects, it creates a financial risk for the entire economy. (Tolga Akmen/Pool via/Reuters)

It also creates a risk for ordinary Canadians who depend on those institutions for their banking, pensions and insurance, as well as for investors and employees.

That is what Zizzo, who trained as a lawyer, sees as her company’s job: to help banks transition to a point where climate risk will not hurt them or their stakeholders. And she says part of the difficulty for banks is that their normal investment horizons are two years, or maybe a little longer.

“But generally they are all still too short to think about the longer-term issues of climate,” she said. Financial institutions are currently struggling to adapt to new global requirements, expected soon, where investors will have to be informed of a bank’s long-term climate liability, she said.

“It’s taking time before it actually percolates into the risk-management functions of these financial institutions,” Zizzo said.

She also says that so far, banks have been better at expanding their investments in greener projects than they have been in paring back on fossil fuels.

That failure to reduce investments in fossil fuel expansion is the problem identified in Wednesday’s bank report. Adam Scott, director of Shift, a Toronto-based group that monitors pensions for climate risk, says it demonstrates what he calls a lack of “climate literacy.”

Suncor’s oilsands base plant in Fort McMurray, Alta. A crash in the fossil fuel business during the COVID-19 pandemic led to a sharp drop in investment growth in 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Despite the recent vote by federal Conservatives in Canada rejecting the idea that climate change is real, Scott said that is not a view shared by most bankers he meets. The problem is that they fail to recognize that the problem “requires the phaseout of fossil fuels entirely over a very short period of time.”

“I think the thing that’s missed here is that when you build new fossil fuel projects, you’re locking in emissions for decades to come. So an investment today in new fossil fuel makes it harder to address the climate crisis,” Scott said.

“It’s going to make a very difficult thing more difficult,” he said. “The banks are pouring money into making this problem harder, and that just has to stop.”

Follow Don Pittis on Twitter: @don_pittis

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Canada employment regains pre-pandemic levels in September – Canada Immigration News

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Published on October 15th, 2021 at 11:00am EDT
Updated on October 15th, 2021 at 11:01am EDT

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Canada’s economy gained 157,000 jobs last month, bringing the employment rate to within a percentage point of pre-pandemic levels.

Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey captured the Canadian labour market for the week of September 12 to 18. That week, several provinces had introduced proof-of-vaccination requirements to enter certain non-essential venues like gyms and restaurants.

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The employment rate is the number of employed people as a percentage of the population age 15 and over. In September, Canada’s employment rate was 60.9 per cent, still 0.9 per cent under the February 2020 rate as a result of population growth.

The unemployment rate declined for the fourth consecutive month in September, falling to 6.9 per cent, the lowest rate since the onset of the pandemic.

Employment continues to increase for very recent immigrants

The employment rate among very recent immigrants continued on an upward trend, reaching 71 per cent last month.

Although the overall population of newcomers has not grown over the course of the pandemic, the number of very recent immigrants working in some industries has grown. Namely, in professional, scientific, and technical services, as well as finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing. These two industries have had sustained employment growth throughout the pandemic.

Immigrants who have been in Canada for more than five years saw an employment rate of nearly 59 per cent, which is down about one percentage point from September 2019. People born in Canada had an employment rate of about 61 per cent, down two percentage points in the same time frame.

White collar sectors ahead while blue collar lags behind

The services-producing sector surpassed its pre-COVID employment level for the first time. The increases were led by public administration, information, culture and recreation, and professional, scientific and technical services.

By contrast, some industries such as accommodation and food services has yet to return to the employment levels seen in February 2020. This is partially due to the industry being heavily affected by public health measures. This September employment in food services fell for the first time in five months. Employment in retail also declined.

The goods-producing sector saw little change overall, which has been the case since it lost 94,000 jobs between April and June. Manufacturing and natural resources were the exceptions, both industries saw some employment growth in September.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

  • Have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email: Covid@cbc.ca

In Europe, protests erupted in Italy on Friday as one of the most stringent anti-coronavirus measures in Europe went into effect, requiring all workers, from magistrates to maids, to show a health pass to get into their place of employment.

Police were out in force, some schools ended classes early and embassies issued warnings of possible violence amid concerns that the anti-vaccination demonstrations could turn into riots, as they did in Rome last weekend.

But by day’s end, the protests appeared to have been largely peaceful, including one at Rome’s central Circus Maximus where some protesters gave police officers flowers in a sign they meant no harm.

The green pass shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months. Italy already required the pass to access all sorts of indoor environments, including restaurants, museums, theaters, and long-distance trains.

PHOTOS | Protests greet debut of workplace green pass in Italy:

But the addition of the workplace requirement has sparked heated debate and opposition in a country that was a coronavirus epicentre early in the pandemic but has kept the latest resurgence in check through continued mask mandates and one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe.

The new rule in a country that imposed the first COVID-19 lockdown and production shutdown in the West imposes a burden on worker and employer alike. Electronic scanners that can read cellphone QR codes with the green pass were set up at bigger places of employment, such as the office of Italian Premier Mario Draghi and the headquarters of state railway company Trenitalia.

Sanctions for employers who fail to check employees range from 400 to 1,000 euros ($575 to $1,437 Cdn). A worker who fails to show a valid pass is considered absent without justification and could face fines from 600 to 1,500 euros ($862 to $2,155 Cdn).

The aim of the requirement is to encourage vaccination rates to rise beyond the current 81 per cent of the population over age 12 who are fully inoculated. And if recent days are any indication, it was working: The number of first shots administered Thursday rose 34 per cent compared to the beginning of the week, Italy’s virus czar reported Friday.

But for those people who can’t or won’t get their shots, the expanded pass requirement imposes a burden of getting tested every 48 hours just to be able to go to work. People with a proven medical condition that prevents them being vaccinated are exempt.

A worker shows a green pass outside their workplace in Rome on Friday. The new measure requiring all Italian workers to show the COVID-19 health pass as proof of vaccination at their place of employment has sparked heated debate and opposition. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)

Some employers are offering free tests at work, but the government has refused calls to make testing free across the board. Currently rapid tests run from eight euros ($11.50 Cdn) for children to 15 euros ($21.55 Cdn) for adults.

For some opponents, the requirement is disproportionate to the current need: Italy has kept the latest delta variant-fuelled resurgence largely under control through continued mask use and physical distancing, reporting around 67 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks.

But proponents say the requirement will keep workplaces safe and allow Italy’s economy, which shrank 8.9 per cent last year, to further rebound.


What’s happening in Canada

WATCH | Some Ontarians can now download QR vaccine certificates: 

Some Ontarians can now download QR code COVID-19 vaccine certificates

7 hours ago

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday people born between January and April can now download their COVID-19 vaccine certificate QR codes on the Ontario Health website. Those with birthdays between May and August can do so Oct. 16, and those born between September and December can do so as of Oct. 17. 1:17

  • P.E.I. logs 3 new cases, including a child under 12 years of age.
  • N.S. reports 18 new cases, bringing province’s active caseload to 199.

What’s happening around the world

As of Friday, more than 239.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.8 million.

In the Americas, hundreds of white flags were put up in front of Brazil’s Congress on Friday, to protest more than 600,000 COVID-19 deaths in the country — the second highest toll in the world behind the U.S.

An activist places white flags representing people who have died of COVID-19 outside Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, on Friday. (Eraldo Peres/The Associated Press)

In Asia, South Korean officials will partially ease virus restrictions in the hard-hit capital region starting next week to address a battered economy and pandemic fatigue.

In Africa, South Africa will start vaccinating children between the ages of 12 and 17 next week using the Pfizer vaccine, the health minister said.

Elsewhere in Europe, COVID-19 tests in France are no longer free for unvaccinated adults unless they are prescribed by a doctor.

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U.S. to lift curbs from Nov. 8 for vaccinated foreign travelers – White House

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The White House on Friday said it will lift COVID-19 travel restrictions for fully vaccinated foreign nationals effective Nov. 8, ending historic restrictions that barred much of the world from the United States.

 Restrictions on non-U.S. citizens were first imposed on air travelers from China in January 2020 by then-President Donald Trump and then extended to dozens of other countries, without any clear metrics for how and when to lift them.

Curbs on non-essential travelers at land borders with Mexico and Canada have been in place since March 2020 to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reuters first reported Friday’s announcement of the Nov. 8 starting date earlier in the day.

U.S. airline, hotel and cruise industry stocks rose on the news, including American Airlines, up 1.9%; Marriott International Inc, up 2.2%; and Carnival Corp, up 1.3%.

The United States had lagged many other countries in lifting such restrictions, and allies welcomed the move. The U.S. restrictions have barred travelers from most of the world, including tens of thousands of foreign nationals with relatives or business links in the United States.

The White House on Tuesday announced it would lift restrictions at its land borders and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico for fully vaccinated foreign nationals in early November. They are similar but not identical to requirements announced last month for international air travelers.

Unvaccinated visitors will still be barred from entering the United States from Canada or Mexico at land borders.

Canada on Aug. 9 began allowing fully vaccinated U.S. visitors for non-essential travel.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Reuters last week the United States will accept the use by international visitors of COVID-19 vaccines authorized by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization.

The White House, which held a meeting late Thursday to finalize the Nov. 8 date, still faces some remaining questions, including how and what exemptions the Biden administration will grant to the vaccine requirements. Children under 18, for example, are largely expected to be exempt from the requirements, an official said.

U.S. Travel Association Chief Executive Roger Dow said in a statement that the Nov. 8 date “is critically important for planning – for airlines, for travel-supported businesses, and for millions of travelers worldwide who will now advance plans to visit the United States once again.”

The White House announced on Sept. 20 that the United States would lift restrictions on air travelers from 33 countries in early November. It did not specify the date at the time.

Starting Nov. 8, the United States will admit fully vaccinated foreign air travelers from the 26 so-called Schengen countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, as well as Britain, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. The unprecedented U.S. restrictions have barred non-U.S. citizens who were in those countries within the past 14 days.

The United States has allowed foreign air travelers from more than 150 countries throughout the pandemic, a policy that critics said made little sense because some countries with high COVID-19 rates were not on the restricted list, while some on the list had the pandemic more under control.

The White House said last month it would apply vaccine requirements to foreign nationals traveling from all other countries.

Non-U.S. air travelers will need to show proof of vaccination before boarding a flight, and will need to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Foreign visitors crossing a land border will not need to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test.

The new rules do not require foreign visitors or Americans entering the country to go into quarantine.

Americans traveling overseas must still show proof of a recent negative COVID-19, and unvaccinated Americans will face stricter COVID-19 testing requirements. They will also be subject to restrictions in the countries they plan to visit, which may include quarantines.

The CDC plans to soon issue new rules on contact tracing for international air travelers.

 

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by John Stonestreet, Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)

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