protest-tar-sand-bannerTens of millions of people watched the glittering closing ceremony last night as the Winter Olympics drew to a close in Vancouver.

To cap off the games, Canada was celebrating a record number of gold medals and a prized win over the Americans in ice hockey. It was a perfect ending to the Olympics and a great media image to be beamed around the world.

The images from the Olympics differ vastly from the other international story from Canada over the last few months: tar sands.

But how many people in Britain watching the Olympics know that it is their money that is fuelling the dirty tar sands extraction?

A new report released today exposes the involvement of the three main high street banks in the UK (Barclays, HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland) in the tar sands.

The report called “Cashing in on Tar Sands: RBS, UK banks and Canada’s “blood oil”, details how all the companies are involved in providing significant sums of project or corporate finance for oil extraction.

British tax-payers, who own 84 per cent of the bank, may be shocked to find out that the bank has provided loans worth $7.5 billion in the last three years to companies involved in the tar sands.

It has continued loaning the money, even after being bailed out by the public. Since the bank’s initial recapitalisation took place in October 2008, RBS has underwritten corporate debt and equity worth nearly $2.5 billion with tar sands related companies.

This use of public money is counter to growing public expectations and political demands that RBS operate to a different standard than simply the pursuit of a bottom line agenda.

The report is being released today by a group of NGOs including PLATFORM, the World Development Movement, People & Planet and Friends of the Earth, to coincide with a court action.

This is challenging the Treasury over RBS’ use of public money to provide finance for companies that exacerbate climate change and disregard human rights, including tar sands, coal, oil and gas and other forms of mining.

Mel Evans from PLATFORM, one of the authors of the report said: “RBS has been involved in providing more money in loans to destructive tar sands companies than any other UK bank.”

She continued: “When RBS executives get their bonuses, they are being rewarded for enabling oil companies to devastate traditional ways of life for Indigenous communities in Canada, while making the problems of climate change much, much worse.”

The banks are obviously getting worried. A month ago, executives from European and North American banks, including RBS, met in Toronto to discuss concerns over a public backlash over the banking sector’s involvement in the increasingly controversial projects.

The meeting was hosted by the Royal Bank of Canada and attended by 41 banking executives from around the world.

The day included presentations by Jim Ellis, the Albertan Deputy Minister for the Environment, and Peter Watson, the Deputy Minister for Energy, and a presentation on ‘Public Opinion on Canada’s Oil Sands’ by Bruse Anderson of  National Public Relations.

As well as public opinion, the Canadian’s must not ignore the opinion of Canada’s indigenous community.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, an Indigenous activist from Canada argues: “RBS must publicly commit to not providing finance to Canada’s Tar sands. Failure to do so would be morally bankrupt given that the developments entail massive ecological destruction and human rights abuses particularly in First Nations Lands.”

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