Should RBS get credit for going green?

Article 23 Apr 2010 admin

CLIMATE change protesters are threatening direct action protests against the Royal Bank of Scotland over dealings with the oil industry.

They say the bank invests more in the fossil fuel industry than any other in the UK and claim this is damaging the planet. The Government-owned bank, however, prides itself on its environmental record.

The protests are expected to start with a demonstration outside RBS’s AGM at the EICC next Wednesday – nothing new for the bank, which was targeted during G20 protests in London last April.

Here, environmental campaigner KEVIN SMITH and RBS offer opposing views on the bank’s green credentials . . .



SINCE 2005, when the campaign began to draw attention to the massive amounts of money that RBS was pouring into fossil fuel projects around the world, the bank has taken a lot of pains to present itself as actually being clean and green.

It wasn’t so long ago that RBS was proclaiming its expertise on its website and as recently as 2007, a spokesperson for the bank even responded to criticisms by disputing the scientific consensus on the cause of climate change.

Since then, RBS has issued thousands of glossy leaflets to customers assuring them they too are concerned about the environment and trumpeting how much they invest in renewables.

While investing in renewables is to be applauded, the fact is that addressing the threat of climate change requires both clean energy investments and a halt to the massive investment in fossil fuels. We could build an infinite number of windmills but that wouldn’t prevent us from catastrophic climate change if we were to still keep burning more and more coal and oil, pumping out the carbon into the atmosphere.

This contradiction was illustrated neatly in March when a spokesperson for RBS wrote in The Guardian disputing the bank’s heavy involvement in financing companies involved in tar sands extraction in Canada – a particularly dirty and carbon intensive energy source with terrible consequences for local indigenous communities – while pointing to the fact that RBS had invested in renewable energy. Unfortunately for RBS, on the same day a Canadian newspaper revealed that the bank was opening up a new office in Calgary – the heart of tar sands country.

In response to RBS’s greenwash in The Guardian, a representative from Orkney Sustainable Energy wrote in to say that they had “repeatedly attempted to persuade the bank to fund our Scottish renewable energy projects” and that RBS were not telling “the whole story”.

RBS can’t have it both ways by claiming credit for renewables investment while distancing itself from and denying the massive amounts of finance it is pouring into companies that are trashing the climate and trampling over the rights of marginalised communities. One of our demands of the now 84 per cent publicly-owned RBS is that it should come clean to its account holders, and indeed the UK taxpayers to whom it owes its very existence, about exactly how much money it is providing to the fossil fuel industry.

This is one of the many motions that have been collected by groups such as Friends of the Earth Scotland for the Public Share Holder meeting on Wednesday evening in Edinburgh, where the UK public will be discussing how we can truly transform The Oil Bank of Scotland into the Royal Bank of Sustainability.

Kevin Smith is a climate and finance campaigner with the pressure group Platform. He is also author of “Cashing in on Coal: RBS, UK Banks and the Global Coal Industry” and “Cashing in on Tar Sands; RBS, UK Banks and Canada’s Blood Oil”.




RBS fully recognises the need for the transition to a low carbon economy. We openly support the ongoing international negotiations to put in place a binding global framework to address climate change by capping annual emissions at a level deemed to be acceptable by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We believe that climate change can only be addressed by concerted multi-stakeholder action, involving national governments, local authorities, NGOs, businesses and consumers.

Through our existing business, we provide a wide variety of services in support of low carbon sectors.

Between 2004 and 2008, RBS was the leading commercial provider of finance to renewable power projects globally, well ahead of any other UK bank.

Our credentials in this sector remain strong, as demonstrated by our selection to take part in the recently announced 1.4billion EIB UK wind power lending scheme.

In July 2008 we organised the UK Low Carbon Economy Summit in London in partnership with the UK Government at which Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke on the need to decarbonise of the economy.

We have also taken part in a number of UK Government consultations and are currently one of the sponsors of a Royal Society of Edinburgh enquiry into mitigation of climate change.

In our own operations, we are taking action to reduce our environmental impact in a number of areas, such as current accounts, where over 6 million UK customers have been switched to paperless banking.

As a major bank to the energy sector, we have a broad range of clients whose operations are currently focussed on hydrocarbon extraction and power generation.

Given the current energy dependency of the UK and other countries on hydrocarbons, and the current technology, planning consent and other limitations on the realistic projected growth rate of viable alternatives, we do not believe that RBS should unilaterally scale back its involvement with these clients, but instead should engage with the energy sector to support the development of cleaner technologies and increased investment in renewable energy.

We recognise that not all of the many stakeholders who have a very legitimate interest in our operations will agree with our approach, and we regularly engage with non-governmental organisations to better understand their perspective.

However it is important to remember that it is ultimately not the role of banks to determine the future energy strategy of the markets in which we operate. This is rightly the primary responsibility of democratically elected governments.

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