HSBC Bank Canada is not adopting its parent company’s sweeping move to cease financing for many oil and gas projects as Royal Bank of Canada RY-T works on closing a deal to acquire the London-based bank’s Canadian unit.
HSBC Holdings is the latest bank to restrict financing for fossil-fuel industries as pressure mounts for lenders to ditch projects associated with climate-change risks. Weeks ago, RBC announced plans to acquire the bank’s Canadian division.
HSBC announced Wednesday that it will stop financing new oil and gas fields, related infrastructure projects and oil- and gas-fired power plants. The policy extends across HSBC’s global footprint, with the exception of its Canadian unit.
“During the sale process, HSBC is precluded from applying policy changes that would alter the way we manage HSBC Bank Canada’s business,” HSBC said in its policy document. “We have limited oil-sands exposure in Canada. We have no direct exposure outside of Canada and will update this policy following completion of the sale of HSBC Bank Canada.”
In late November, Royal Bank of Canada said it would buy HSBC Bank Canada for $13.5-billion, the biggest domestic banking deal on record. The acquisition reinforces RBC’s top spot as Canada’s largest bank, while some of its competitors look to the United States to boost market share. The deal is expected to close in late 2023.
RBC declined a request for comment.
Some global lenders have already stopped financing fossil-fuel projects. Britain-based Lloyds said in October that it would not provide direct financing to develop new oil and gas fields. Dutch bank ING and France-based La Banque Postale made similar policy changes in the past few years.
Meanwhile, Canadian regulators have grown increasingly wary of risks associated with climate change.
In May, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) released draft rules mandating that federally regulated banks, insurers and pension funds provide detailed climate-related disclosure and address potential financial risks. Earlier in the year, Peter Routledge, the head of Canada’s banking regulator, said that OSFI could raise capital levels to require the banks to build buffers against risks from climate change and the green economy transition.
While banks point to increased investments in clean technology to help lower emissions, environmental groups say that their response doesn’t go far enough.
In early October, Canada’s Competition Bureau received an application from a citizens group backed by environmental organizations, which prompted the watchdog to launch an inquiry into whether Royal Bank made misleading statements about its actions to fight climate change.
Later that month, RBC set interim targets to help clients cut carbon emissions in heavily polluting sectors by 2030. The targets are aimed at reducing the intensity of emissions – reductions per unit of economic output, rather than absolute cuts – by clients operating in the oil and gas, power generation and automotive sectors. It also changed its sustainable-financing framework with details on how it plans to meet its 2025 goal of providing $500-billion in loans and equity issues for green projects.
The other Big Five banks released similar goals earlier in the year, making RBC the last lender of the group to set 2030 emissions targets.
RBC’s targets were informed by the Net Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA) – a global alliance of financial institutions – led by former central banker Mark Carney.
“Across our businesses, a key pillar of our climate strategy is to play a role in a just, orderly and inclusive transition to net zero, including helping clients execute on their own sustainability strategies,” RBC chief executive officer Dave McKay said during an earnings conference call on Nov. 30.