On Earth Day: The Fight Against Climate Disaster Investors

As we celebrate Earth Day and world leaders prepare to meet virtually for the Summit on Climate, advocates have fast-tracked their efforts to tackle investors who continue to pour billions into climate disaster. This strategy is proving to be effective as the culprits on fueling human rights and environmental violations are identified and targeted with international campaigns. Indeed, as investing in a dirty fuel economy proves to be less and less lucrative, transnational companies are less likely to be seen in a negative light.

For example, Amazon Watch, Friends of the Earth, and Rainforest Action have supported network campaigns that place climate disaster investors like BlackRock in an uncomfortable spotlight. In late March, over 80 indigenous activists in at least 25 countries, cosigned a letter to criticize BlackRock’s role in massive deforestation and fossil fuel projects that are threatening indigenous people’s existence. They also criticized the company’s public statements about climate risks and shifting investments towards “natural capital” while lacking serious accountability.

“Communities around the world are facing an epidemicof violence, murder, and criminalizationat the hands of extractive industries… What action has BlackRock taken to ensure respect for our rights and uphold international standards of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent? Whenhas BlackRock ever sought to hear the voices of the people impacted by your investments?What will you do to stop the companies you finance from violating our rights and attacking our communities, redress grievances, and ensure that these violations do not continue in the future?” reads the letter.

The #AllEyesOnBlackRock campaign, led by a coalition of organizations, featured several actions in front of BlackRock’s premises this month to effectively to highlight the company’s role in the climate crisis.

Photo: New York Communities for Change
Photo: New York Communities for Change

BlackRock and Wells Fargo are two of the largest investors of Line 3, a pipeline being built on Ojibwe indigenous territories to transport oil from one of the most polluting projects in the world, Alberta’s tar sands oil in Canada, according to National Geographic

The last decade has proved disastrous to BlackRock investors, as they lost $90 billion on bets made on some of the largest oil companies–that was before the pandemic hit. They are also being increasingly associated with dirty tactics, such as Enbridge oil company’s efforts to divide indigenous communities and spending money in local police surveillance and repression.

Rainforest Action Network has also been documenting top international banks that continue to invest billions of dollars in dirty fuels, which seemed doomed as countries seek to transition into renewable energies. The Keystone XL pipeline failed to garner support from the Biden administration largely because its “climate-related costs” offset future pipeline investments, as the country shifts to a clean energy economy. 

The revoked permit lost Alberta’s citizens $7.5 billion in taxpayers money, $1.1 million of which was spent on lobbying Washington. Organizations like the Indigenous Environmental Network, which began organizing against the pipeline in 2006, credit new organizing strategies and tactics across borders for shutting down Keystone not once, but twice.

Investors are paying notice. Back in 2017, 130 signed a statement requesting economic partners to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s request to reroute the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to avoid indigenous territory. “As investors we are very concerned by the reputational and potential financial risks due to these banks being associated with DAPL…To date, we understand that consumers have closed bank accounts worth over $53 million—and are threatening to pull another $2.3 billion—from the banks financing DAPL,” it reads. Their request fell on deaf ears, yet Enbrige, the oil company that oversees DAPL, reported foreseeable quarterly losses, salary and retirement cuts in 2020. 

Sacred Trust Initiative, an indigenous organization fighting tar sands oil in Canada, has also been successfully in targeting investors by partnering with academia to document the devastating economic consequences of pouring money into the climate disaster. According to their estimates, Canada is set to lose $11.9 billion on the Trans Mountain Expansion project:

“TMX will violate our inherent and constitutionally protected Indigenous rights. It threatens the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales and the deeply sacred relationship we have with them. And it will take Canada further down the path towards climate catastrophe. Prime Minister Trudeau’s government recognized these impacts in approving and purchasing the project in 2019, but justified their actions based on the outdated business case.

Now that the business case has crumbled, there is no justification for the project, and it should be cancelled before sinking more public money into construction. In this era of a COVID-19 economic and health crisis, an imminent climate crisis, and with the government poised to vote to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the TMX project makes no sense. Canada’s future requires climate action and reconciliation, not more pipelines.”

Organizational efforts to stop climate disaster investors go beyond just targeting capitalist institutions. An impressive coalition of 200 organizations in Brazil, international artists, and 15 US Senators, have urged Biden in the past couple of weeks to stop private negotiations with Bolsonaro’s government in Brazil due to a daming record on human rights violations, deforestation, and attacks on environmental and indigenous organizations. Advocates are urging Biden that if his commitment to tackling climate change stays true, its administration needs to listen to the people on the ground for immediate solutions. “Any proposal to address deforestation in the Amazon must be built from dialogue with civil society, subnational governments, academia and, above all, with the local communities that know how to protect the forest and the goods and services it harbors,” demanded Brazilian advocates in the letter.

Fighting climate disaster investors might seem like a long shot, but it is proving to be effective. Just last week, according to Reuters, the French bank Natixis announced it will follow the example of three other European banks and stop trading in oil flowing from Ecuador by 2022 “after pressure from campaigners over the trade’s links to environmental damage in the Amazon.” 

Indigenous communities and organized environmental networks deserve a big thanks today for their relentless work to protect Mother Earth.

Original video by Honor the Earth. Subtitles provided by Awasqa with permission.