RBS has distributed hundreds of thousands of glossy leaflets titled “RBS & the Environment” to all its branches. Weaving together a selection of facts while distorting others and relying on numerous omissions, the leaflet is high-quality greenwash designed to persuade customers and employees that all is fine.
These responses cover the background that RBS didn't include in its leaflet:
1) "We are financing the transition to a low carbon economy"
* Not true. RBS is preventing a transition out of a carbon intensive economy.
A transition is a shift from A to B. A transition to a low carbon economy will require a shift from financing fossil fuels towards financing renewables.
Yet RBS oil & gas loans are feeding carbon addiction and keeping us stuck in a carbon intensive economy.
When RBS start replacing loans to fossil fuels with loans to renewables, then they will be financing the transition.
2) "Gas and oil remain a key part of everyday life and realistically can’t be abandoned overnight without widespread social and economic upheaval."
* Distortion & misrepresentation
Nobody is calling for oil & gas to be abandoned overnight. The problem is that RBS loans to oil & gas lead to increases in fossil fuel extraction.
If RBS finances a fossil fuel project today, it will come onstream in 2 years, and then run for 15-30 years. Whether or not the planet can sustain current levels fossil fuel production levels, it definitely cannot sustain further increases.
3) "We only lend to projects that conform to the highest international environmental and social standards"
* Not true.
RBS finances some of the most dirty and dangerous oil & gas projects, including the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, criticised by Amnesty, WWF and Friends of the Earth for its human rights and pollution impacts.
RBS’ claim rests on being a signatory of the Equator Principles, weak guidelines to reduce social and environmental risk. Far from being the “highest international environmental and social standards”, these are increasingly seen as the lowest common denominator.
Even so, RBS has financed and attempted to finance projects that break the Equator Principles. The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline carried at least 157 direct violations, while Shell’s highly controversial Sakhalin II project, the bank tried hard to finance, was repeatedly shown to be in violation of the Principles.
In a 2006 WWF report that evaluated how banks meet the real highest international environmental and social standards gave RBS a score of only 0.54 out of 4 – worse than both Barclays and HSBC.
4) "We achieved the highest possible rating (AAA) for environmental and social management, by the Innovest ratings agency in 2007"
* Not the whole story
RBS has chosen not to mention Innovest’s October 2007 Carbon Beta Rating which specifically assesses climate risk management. RBS scored only BBB, worse than Barclays (AA), HSBC (AAA) and HBOS (AAA). Out of 15 banks reported on in Innovest's Carbon Disclosure Project report, RBS was the only bank to score worse than “A”.
Further, according to Innovest, “In our view, if RBS were to aggressively enter higher risk emerging market economies without upgrading its existing ESG due diligence systems, it would find itself exposed to environmental, social and political risks that it is currently not equipped to navigate.”
In other words, RBS is not equipped to deal with risky projects in the Global South. But this is exactly where RBS has been financing some of the most dangerous and controversial oil and gas projects
5) "We are the largest financier of renewable energy in the World"
* Good, but not the whole story.
RBS arranged loans for seven large wind and renewable energy projects in 2006. This compares well with other international banks, partly due to the low starting point. In terms of syndicated lending, RBS still came in the top 10 in 2006, although it was only 9th, providing $197.5 million, compared to Fortis’ $1491.1 million.
But RBS cannot claim climate credit for financing renewable energy while denying its climate responsibilities for funding fossil fuels. Financing renewables does not cancel out the embedded emissions of financing oil & gas.
6) "We were one of only three banks to achieve a 95% score in the Carbon Disclosure Project in 2007"
* Not the whole story
RBS’ disclosure to the Carbon Disclosure Project has improved over recent years. However, the current response still leaves much to be desired for, with no increased transparency over the true climate impacts of RBS’ lending to fossil fuels.
Further, there remains a large gap between carbon disclosure and carbon performance. Other strong performers on the CDP transparency scale in 2007 included BP, Rio Tinto and Exxon, which speaks for itself. For this reason, CDP incorporated Innovest’s Carbon Beta ratings this year – in which RBS ranked worst out of 15 international banks included.
7) "We use 100% green electricity in the UK and Ireland"
* Missing the point
It is positive that RBS is only using green electricity. However, it should be seen in the same context as if Exxon announced that all company vehicles would be electric cars, or if an SUV manufacturer announced that its factory would run off solar power.
These are steps in the right direction, but miss the elephant in the room. RBS’ most relevant impact on climate change results from its loans to fossil fuels.