Environmental activists have staged a protest at the Royal Bank of Scotland’s (RBS) headquarters, demanding further action to combat climate change.
The campaigners are calling on the bank and others to fully commit to ending the financing of fossil fuel projects.
They say RBS has been taking steps in the right direction over the past few years but believe the bank – which is majority owned by the UK Government – has a “massive opportunity” to lead the country away from fossil fuel finance.
Campaigners want the improvement in practice to be made permanent through a company policy that specifically excludes the financing of fossil fuels.
RBS said its exposure to the power, oil and gas sectors has reduced “substantially” in recent years.
The protest outside the bank’s AGM in Gogarburn, Edinburgh, involved activists from the organisations Friends of the Earth Scotland, BankTrack and other local campaign groups.
Lise Masson, a climate campaigner at BankTrack, said figures suggest 33 banks around the world have put more than 1.9 trillion US dollars (£1.47 trillion) into fossil fuels in the last three years.
She said: “We are here today to send a message to RBS that we want them to end fossil fuel financing.
“We are seeing increasingly violent and more common impacts of climate change across the world.
“RBS has a massive opportunity. In the past year, RBS’s fossil fuel lending has dropped to nearly zero.
“But that’s in practice, in theory it’s not translated into policy changes so it means that the bank still has the door open to fossil fuels.
“We want them to take a bold move and to close that door for good.”
On climate change activism in general, she added: “I think the momentum is building up.
“I think people are becoming fed up with the inaction of the elites and the governments and they are choosing to take control back and to take action themselves.”
The activists outside the conference centre held banners bearing the message: “Fossil Banks, No Thanks!”
Ric Lander, divestment campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, called on RBS to make a “clear and bold plan” to go fossil-free.
He said: “If we are going to respond to this crisis, which is already affecting millions of people’s lives around the world, it’s urgent that we have investors, financiers and banks leading that change.
“That really should start with banks like RBS because RBS is still majority owned by the British people.
“This bank is 62% owned by the UK Government and we think that means it has a responsibility to lead on acting on climate change.”
He added: “We want RBS to go fossil-free and be clear on the direction it is going.
“It has been making encouraging moves but we need it to be clear and make a commitment about the direction of travel.
“RBS needs to go fossil-free and in doing so it could lead a whole sea-change in the financial sector.”
RBS chairman Sir Howard Davies addressed environmental issues in his speech to shareholders at the AGM.
In an extract of his remarks, on the RBS website, he said: “Just before last year’s AGM, we announced that we will not lend directly to new coal power, coal mining, oil sands and arctic oil projects, or to mining or power companies with more than 40% involvement in coal.
“We aim to be a leading supporter of the low carbon transition, in line with UK and global climate goals, and have financed more renewable energy transactions in the UK over the last decade than any other UK bank.”
An RBS spokesman said: “Our exposure to the power, oil and gas sectors has reduced substantially in recent years and now accounts for approximately 1.2% of our total lending.
“We have financed more UK renewable energy projects than any other UK bank over the last decade and we aim to be a leading supporter of the low carbon transition, in line with UK and global climate goals.”