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Switch banks, lower emissions, say climate change activists

As the international community wrapped up the first week of post-Kyoto treaty negotiations in Poland, cities around the world held rallies calling for action on climate change.

In Vancouver today, volunteers and organizers focused on the role big banks have in funding the tar sands.

Last month, the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network (which spearheaded the event) published a report analyzing the greenhouse gas emissions of Canada’s five biggest banks, based on their financing of fossil fuel projects.

According to the report, last year Royal Bank, TD Bank, BMO, Scotiabank and CIBC provided a total of $155 billion in direct corporate loans and financing to coal, oil and gas industries.

"[Banks] play a massive role in Canada's future as a contributor to global warming rather than a country that's helping solve the problem," said organizer Graham Girard.

"The main things we're trying to do today is just raise awareness."

On hand were several laptops, on which people could check out a website that calculates exactly how much a savings account at one of the big five banks might contribute to one's carbon footprint.

VanCity and Desjardins were examples of two "low-carbon" financial institutions.

"Really when it comes down to it these days, where do you have control? It's where you spend your money and what comes out of your mouth, pretty much," said volunteer Coree Tell.

She was one of the volunteers, some of whom were dressed in polar bear suits and Santa hats, who worked the passersby outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. The event didn't draw a crowd, with most of the foot traffic downtown headed for the Santa Claus parade.

Among those who did stop by were David Suzuki and daughter Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who said halting tar sands development is one of the most important things Canada can do to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

"The other thing is really taking leadership in our Kyoto commitments," she said. "We're breaking international law."

There were reports yesterday of 700 activists marching through downtown Poznan, Poland, where the climate talks are taking place. Thousands more marched in London and around the world, calling for more investment in renewable energy and the creation of green jobs.

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