Yesterday the Royal Bank of Scotland held their 2011 Annual General Meeting at their Gogarburn headquarters on the industrial edge of Edinburgh (see Press Association video with Clayton Thomas-Muller from Indigenous Environmental Network and myself). The conference centre was flanked by press jesting with shareholders about diminishing returns. Much of the press group made a dash for the entrance when around 20 ‘Oily Bankers’ arrived, suited, booted and adorned with false moustaches and bowler hats, to protest RBS finance of fossil fuels. The group climbed on top of the RBS logo monument and the poured oil down their throats.
Representatives of Canadian First Nation groups and communities arrived shortly after and became the focus of media attention around the questions they would be bringing to the AGM on RBS finance for tar sands related projects and companies. Jasmine Thomas, leader of Yinka Dene Alliance – a forum of indigenous people in British Columbia – called on RBS “to behave like an ethical, publicly owned, financial institution”. “RBS should not make money from business with Enbridge, whose proposed pipeline will result in the pipeline spills that threaten our salmon economy, our water security and our cultural foundation.”
My question was along similar lines. There is a massive gap between RBS rhetoric and RBS financing. As a publicly owned bank, RBS is not financing in the interests of the public good – exactly the opposite. After gallons of greenwash RBS needs to stump up some solid policies that limit its finance of fossil fuels, rather than an array of ‘Group Sustainability’ and ‘Energy Financing’ reports that are filled with empty rhetoric.
Whenever RBS claims envoronmental interest or responsibility it is being hypocritical – its risk assets, or financing, of fossil fuels are greater than any other UK bank.
Our most recently released report ‘Dirty Money: Corporate greenwash and RBS coal finance’ shows that from 2008 to 2010 inclusive RBS has been involved in financing worth almost €8bn to international coal projects. This research looked specifically at the financing of the world’s 20 biggest coal mine operators and 20 biggest generators of coal based electricity, as listed by Profundo, internationally renowned financial research and consultancy group.
In August 2010 the Sunday Herald ran a front cover expose showing that RBS had provided nearly £13bn worth of finance to the oil and gas industries in the two years since it was bailed out by the UK public.
PLATFORM has been tracking RBS fossil fuel finance for the past five years. We’ve done this research using industry sources including Project Finance International and Bloomberg. One of our demands of RBS over the past five years has been to monitor and publish their fossil fuel finance deals – so that we can draw from a complete set of data. The industry sources we use are those used by international banks and companies around the world, but are not complete accounts of all deals, and do not qualify as publicly available because they are expensive to access – we have obtained information from them as part of the international network of groups tracking banks harmful investments, BankTrack.
Over the past 5 years, we’ve seen RBS do a U-turn in its rhetoric on fossils and climate. From calling itself ‘The Oil and Gas Bank’, the bank has become increasingly conscious of the negative perception that this association could promote in an more climate-conscious public. Since then, rather than engage in any serious finance policy shifts, such as ruling out investments in companies or projects involved in tar sands or new coal, RBS has generated a steady wave of greenwash to detract attention from the worst of its finance deals. Its most recent endeavour – the sponsorship of the nationwide event Climate Week one month ago – follows the same pattern of emphasising corporate concern about climate change, while at the same time refusing to address the issue of the provision of finance to those industries that are largely responsible for it.
RBS recently in late 2010 produced an Energy Financing Report, a document that made various claims of socially and environmentally responsible behaviour and was a sorry excuse compared to the energy policies drawn up by other international banks Dexia, West LB, The Co-op and HSBC. One example from it makes a case in point on RBS window-dressing:
“Since 2006, we have provided more finance to wind power projects than any other type of energy project.”
Finance for wind power does not offset or neutralise finance to coal power. Wind turbines alone do not deal with climate change – there needs to be a concurrent move away from fossil fuels. This figure also refers to the provision of project based finance (a kind of finance that is provided to specific, discrete projects) as opposed to corporate finance (finance that is provided to a corporate entity for them to do with largely as they choose). RBS here seem to be leaving their provision of corporate finance to fossil fuel companies out of the equation. According to research carried out by Brant Olson of the Rainforest Action Network based in North Amercia, if we move the focus away from project finance, the figures tell a very different story. Since the bail-out, less than 1% of the US$15 billion RBS raised for the energy sector went to alternative energy – just US$83 million.
Having bailed out RBS, the UK taxpayer is owed a financing practice that serves the public good by promoting ecological, social and economic sustainability rather than driving us to the edge of climate catastrophe. Over the past three years students have mobilised to kick RBS of their campuses, a coalition of NGOs has taken the Treasury to court for failing to restrict RBS finance in the bail-out, climate activists have targeted the UK as part of several Climate Camps, affected groups and First Nation representatives have met with the Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, the Head of Sustainability and the Chairperson; yet still RBS greenwash their portfolio and fail to act on the clearly made demands of a concerned public. What are they waiting for?