Royal Bank of Scotland faces protests from native tribespeople today over its backing for the controversial extraction of oil from tar sands in Canada.
Three representatives of Canadian First Nation communities will gain admittance to the bank's annual meeting in Edinburgh this morning as proxies for RBS shareholders. They will use the opportunity to ask the chairman, Philip Hampton, and the rest of the RBS board about the bank's financing of tar sands projects in provinces such as Alberta. Protesters dressed as bankers will join the demonstration, swigging from pretend oil cans.
Environmental groups claim that tar sands oil production damages local habitats and accelerates global climate change. According to research compiled by the Rainforest Action Network, RBS has lent £5.6bn in corporate financing for tar sands schemes since it was bailed out by British taxpayers in 2008 – £2bn of it in the past 12 months. The research cites the bank's involvement with Enbridge, BP, Kinder Morgan, Total and Marathon.
The World Development Movement, which is co-ordinating today's protests, says RBS should focus on investments in much-needed low-carbon developments, as an alternative to tar sands projects.
The First Nation representatives at the meeting will present a petition signed by UK taxpayers against RBS's bankrolling of tar sands projects. They will also raise the issue of the impact on local communities. The bank's actions are helping to destroy native peoples' way of life, according to Clayton Thomas-Muller, of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation. "RBS, being a majority publicly owned bank, should be under the greatest scrutiny for its involvement in financing the Canadian tar sands," he said.
A particular focus is the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which will pass through the territory of 80 First Nation tribes and is opposed by all of them. Jasmine Thomas, of the Yinka Dene Alliance, said the scheme threatened salmon-bearing rivers.
"A spill will happen – Enbridge has over 60 pipeline spills each year – and a single spill could destroy our way of life and our culture," she said. "I'm here to warn RBS shareholders of the legal and environmental risks of financing such controversial tar sands companies, and to ask them to withdraw all corporate financing to Enbridge."
RBS says it lends to energy companies rather than tar sands projects specifically, and that all lending is subject to strict social and environmental standards. "As a large international bank RBS provides support for customers across many industries reflecting the makeup and choices of our society and the economy," a spokeswoman said. "We recognise the concerns raised regarding oil sands and we welcome the efforts of the Alberta and Canadian governments and the industry to reduce the effect on the environment."
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