Canada’s Desjardins not scratching pipeline loans after all

Canada’s Desjardins, the largest association of credit unions in North America, has decided to lift a moratorium on loans for energy and pipeline projects, noting that it will weigh its clients’ environmental, social and governance practices in all future lending decisions.

The Quebec-based financial institution, a backer of Kinder Morgan’s expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline, had been evaluating its pipeline-related policy for months. In July, it put such loans temporarily on hold, threatening the financing of high-profiles projects, including TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL and Energy East and Enbridge’s Line 3.

Currently, the Canadian lender is one of 24 financial institutions that is backing a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan Canada (TSX:KML), majority owned by US-based Kinder Morgan.

The moratorium on loans for energy and pipeline projects is being replaced by the application of the ESG (environmental, social and governance) criteria, Desjardins said in a statement.

Desjardins is moving to a carbon-neutral state by offsetting its own greenhouse gas emissions through the purchase of carbon credits starting this year.

This means the institution will put in place four new practices to support Canada’s transition to a greener economy.

Effective immediately, the lender will purchase carbon credits to offset its greenhouse gas emissions. It has also vowed to focus on renewables for the direct investment of its own assets in energy infrastructure. The Desjardins Group pension plan is making this same commitment, it noted.

The financer also said it would ensure that by 2020, the carbon footprint of its own assets invested in publicly traded securities is 25% less than the average greenhouse gas emissions of the companies that make up the stock and bond market indices.

“Going forward, for all business decisions, Desjardins will apply new authorization criteria that take environmental, social and governance factors into consideration,” the company said.

Industry groups, including the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA), which is Canada’s largest credit union federation, applauded the decision.

“This is welcome news for an industry that is under a lot of pressure and is often unfairly vilified,” Chris Gardner, ICBA president, said in a statement. “We congratulate Desjardins on making the right call and supporting Canada’s responsible resource development industry, the billions of dollars it generates, and the more than 400,000 Canadians it directly employs.”

He added the move is a message to the world that “Canada supports responsible development of our natural resources.”

"If we want the energy transition to succeed, it has to be a group effort. Now, more than ever, the financial industry needs to come together and set an example, by making responsible use of the money under our control," Guy Cormier, President and CEO of Desjardins Group said.

Earlier this year, another heavyweight in the financing sector — the ING Group — announced it would not directly finance any of the four proposed oil sands sands pipelines (Trans Mountain expansion, Keystone XL, Line 3 and Energy East).

ING resolution followed Sweden’s largest pension fund — AP7  — decision to divest from TransCanada, as it considers building new pipelines incompatible with the Paris climate agreement.

Oil and gas investments currently represent about $6.6 billion out of a total of $276 billion in Desjardins assets.