In the wake of a U.S. banking giant’s announcement it will no longer invest in new oil projects in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Gwich’in leaders are heading to Bay Street to push some of Canada’s biggest banks to do the same.
Investment firm Goldman Sachs released an updated environmental policy framework this week. In it, the company says it will “decline any financing transaction that directly supports new upstream Arctic oil exploration or development,” including but not limited to new work in the Alaskan refuge.
It’s the latest win for Gwich’in leaders who have been lobbying banks to refuse to fund development in the refuge.
Supporters of drilling say it would be an economic boon in the region, but the Gwich’in and other critics note the refuge, which is a winter home for polar bears, is also sacred calving ground for the Arctic Indigenous group’s traditional food source — caribou.
“For them to really understand the importance of this makes my heart very humble and grateful,” said Gwich’in Steering Committee Executive director Bernadette Demientieff.
May also be financially motivated
Goldman Sachs’s decision not to fund drilling in the refuge follows other international banks, including Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which have said they won’t fund exploration projects in the region.
In explaining its decision, Goldman Sachs acknowledged Indigenous people have used the land for centuries — but the decisions may also be financially motivated.
“Oil development in the Arctic Circle is prone to harsh operating conditions, sea ice, permafrost coverage, and potential impacts to critical natural habitats for endangered species,” the firm notes in its framework.
Demientieff said Gwich’in leaders have been talking with the bank for two years to get this result.
“We do not have the ability to give up … this is our way of life,” she said.
Scotiabank, TD, RBC, CIBC
Gwich’in leaders are now taking the fight north of the border.
CBC reached Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Councillor Cheryl Charlie as she was boarding a flight to Toronto, where she plans to meet representatives from Scotiabank, Toronto-Dominion, Royal Bank of Canada and CIBC to ask them to follow the U.S. company’s lead.
A representative from the Gwich’in Tribal Council also plans on attending the meetings.
“The Goldman Sachs announcement … is a step in the right direction,” she said. “Hopefully this week we can build on that.”
A representative from RBC confirmed the bank is meeting with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and said they “regularly meet with a broad range of stakeholders to understand their perspective.”
Scotiabank declined to comment for this article. TD and CIBC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On a recent episode of Goldman Sachs’ corporate podcast, Exchanges, John Goldstein, head of the company’s sustainable finance group, explained taking environmental issues into account can make investments less risky, and improve one’s odds of making money.
“The business case is fundamentally better than it’s ever been,” he said.
The company said its decision will also apply to “upstream” oil exploration elsewhere in the Arctic, and that any transactions relating to Arctic oil that it does fund will be subject to “enhanced due diligence.”
Banks pull out, politicos weigh in
Banks have been pulling out even as U.S. President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans clear the political path to drilling in the region.
A 2017 tax cut approved by the then Republican-controlled Congress created a plan to allow oil leases in the area.
Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Councillor Cheryl Charlie said Gwich’in people will continue to use every tool possible to stop drilling in the refuge.
“Talking to financial institutions in Canada is one strategy that we have …. Talking to governments is another strategy,” she said.
“Atogether, it demonstrates the level of effort and commitment that the Vuntut Gwich’in is going to go … in order to protect our way of life.”
At least 34 dead after floods in north India
At least 34 people have died following days of heavy rains in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand, the state’s chief minister said, as rescuers continued work to free those stranded on Wednesday.
Aerial footage of the affected areas showed engorged rivers and villages partially submerged by floodwaters.
“There is huge loss due to the floods … the crops have been destroyed,” Pushkar Singh Dhami told Reuters partner ANI after surveying the damage late on Tuesday.
“The locals are facing a lot of problems, the roads are waterlogged, bridges have been washed away. So far 34 people have died and we are trying to normalise the situation as soon as possible.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet he was “anguished” by the loss of life.
The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is especially prone to flooding. More than 200 were feared killed in February after flash floods swept away a hydroelectric dam.
Unseasonally heavy rains across India have led to deadly floods in several areas of the country in recent days. Authorities in the southern state of Kerala said on Monday more than 20 people had died there following landslides. (This story corrects typographic error in the last paragraph)
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Jane Wardell)
Japanese volcano spews plumes of ash, people warned away
A volcano erupted in Japan on Wednesday, blasting ash several miles into the sky and prompting officials to warn against the threat of lava flows and falling rocks, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
Mount Aso, a tourist destination on the main southern island of Kyushu, sent plumes of ash 3.5 km (2.2 miles) high when it erupted at about 11:43 a.m. (0243 GMT), the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
It raised the alert level for the volcano to 3 on a scale of 5, telling people not to approach, and warned of a risk of large falling rocks and pyroclastic flows within a radius of about 1 km (0.6 mile) around the mountain’s Nakadake crater.
The government is checking to determine the status of a number of climbers on the mountain at the time, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters, but added that there were no reports of casualties.
Television networks broadcast images of a dark cloud of ash looming over the volcano that swiftly obscured large swathes of the mountain.
Ash falls from the 1,592-metre (5,222-foot) mountain in the prefecture of Kumamoto are expected to shower nearby towns until late afternoon, the weather agency added.
Mount Aso had a small eruption in 2019, while Japan’s worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years killed 63 people on Mount Ontake in September 2014.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
UK Manchester Airport terminal to reopen after security scare
Terminal Two at Britain’s Manchester Airport will reopen after Greater Manchester Police found no security threat following reports of a suspicious package, a spokesperson for the airport said on Tuesday.
“…Greater Manchester Police is satisfied that there is no security threat and has lifted the cordon that was in place,” the spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the terminal will reopen within the next hour.
The terminal was closed earlier on Tuesday evening after police began assessment of reports of a suspicious package.
In a previous statement, the airport said a “controlled evacuation” was taking place.
(Reporting by Costas Pitas and Nishit Jogi in Bengaluru; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Pullin)
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