Fuelling Climate Change
At first glance, high street banks’ impacts on climate change might look small. Carbon emissions appear comparatively low, resulting from computer screens and business trips. Yet RBS’ products are not only bank statements, but more importantly loans, investment, accounts - which play a central role in the exploration, production and transportation of oil and gas. The carbon emissions embedded within these financial products are staggering.
RBS has a central role in transforming the carbon locked in oil and gas reservoirs thousands of metres underground into atmospheric carbon dioxide – the main cause of climate change. If carbon dioxide molecules had corporate tags of responsibility, the atmosphere would be filled with RBS logos mingling with BP, Exxon and Shell.
What's wrong with climate change?
Climate change is the biggest threat to a secure future currently facing humanity. Consequences within the next decades will include floods, forest fires and droughts, the spread of disease and more extreme weather patterns. We will see widespread extinctions and hundreds of millions of refugees. Rising sea-levels will threaten low-lying areas from Bangladesh to East Anglia. Future generations will have to deal with a radically altered world.
Climate change is not a phenomenon of the future. The World Health Organisations estimates that it already kills 160,000 people every year. The 2003 heat wave in Western Europe led to over 20,000 deaths. Yet, the impacts of climate change will be felt most by the world’s poorest. Food production, water supplies, public health, and people’s livelihoods are being damaged and undermined.
A rapid transition away from carbon fuels towards renewable energy can still help the planet avoid the feedback loop that would lead to ‘runaway’ climate change. Such a shift will need real action by individuals, governments and companies. Crucially, this must incorporate the money behind energy production. The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, representing $850 billion of assets, has accepted that, “Investment decisions taken now will have a big impact on current and future global greenhouse gas emissions.”
Since oil and gas projects usually last for 30-40 years, decisions made today will continue contributing to climate change for decades. Without a change in direction for the dollars and pounds flowing into fossil fuels, the energy framework of the 21st century will remain the same as that of the 20th. Yet RBS is doing the opposite, and funnelling cash into new oil and gas projects.