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"Committing to net-zero financed emissions by 2050 is a good step forward, and in recent months has become the new baseline for banks looking to clean up their act on climate," said Sierra Club's Ben Cushing. (Photo: 350.org/flickr/cc)

'Now Do #TarSands': TD Bank Urged to Go Further on Climate After Nixing Arctic Projects

"It no longer makes business sense for banks to back polluting projects, and those that plan for a low-carbon future will prosper in the economies of tomorrow."

Andrea Germanos

Climate campaigners on Monday welcomed as a step forward TD Bank Group's announcement that it will not fund fossil fuel projects in the Arctic, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as part of its net-zero emissions by 2050 target.

The new climate action plan, the bank said, is "aligned to the associated principles of the Paris agreement" and will help "capture the opportunities of the low-carbon economy."

"This ambitious plan shows the game has changed on climate," said Ameila Meister, senior campaigner at SumOfUs, in a statement. "It no longer makes business sense for banks to back polluting projects, and those that plan for a low-carbon future will prosper in the economies of tomorrow."

According to the announcement, the bank will rule out providing financial services "for activities that are directly related to the exploration, development, or production of oil and gas within the Arctic Circle, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)."

The statement further recognized that the region is "home to protected species, and of crucial importance to the local Indigenous populations," and that it "is warming significantly faster than the rest of our planet, which poses the risk of increased [greenhouse gas] releases and further warming. "

To be sure, the bank has been under pressure to take such action, having been named among the "dirty dozen" worst banks (pdf) in terms of fossil fuel funding since the Paris climate pact entered into force four years ago.

Ben Cushing, Sierra Club senior campaign representative, said, "Committing to net-zero financed emissions by 2050 is a good step forward, and in recent months has become the new baseline for banks looking to clean up their act on climate."

Still, TD Bank must document its "critical next steps for actually getting there," Cushing added, "including a near-term target for emissions reductions and a clear plan to phase out financing for fossil fuels immediately."

As for TD Bank's plan to rule out Arctic drilling, Cushing was tempered in his praise.

With the backdrop of Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo all having recently pledged to stop financing fossil fuel activities in the Arctic, Cushing framed the step as merely "low-hanging fruit for any socially or environmentally responsible bank" and said that "any institution that hasn't yet done so should follow suit."

Cushing also pointed to a notable absence in TD Bank's plan—a commitment to phase out financing of tar sands projects.

That's especially important given the climate impact of tar sands, as well as the fact that TD Bank continues to be one of the biggest bankers in the world of such operations, according to the latest Banking on Climate Change report released in March.  

A "realistic plan to achieve net-zero emissions and align with the Paris agreement must include an immediate commitment to phase out dirty tar sands as well," Cushing said.

The increasing evidence of the climate crisis makes clear there's no time to waste, say progressive campaigners.

"While banks and other financial institutions are rapidly waking up to the severity of these climate risks to their own bottom lines, the climate movement is driving home the fact that by increasing financing of fossil fuels, banks are responsible for an extremely high risk of massive harm to the planet and its people—that is, banks and the financial industry at large have enormous climate impact," said the Banking on Climate Change report. "Financiers need to cut their climate impact with the utmost urgency."


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