THE ROYAL Bank of Scotland has been urged by over 30 third sector groups to be a 'climate change leader' by formally closing the door on the financing of the coal, oil and gas sectors.

The groups from around the world, and include environmental organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth as well as Christian Aid have sent an open letter to Alison Rose, the newly appointed chief executive laying out the case for her to take the radical action.

The groups say an analysis shows that the taxpayer-supported bank's financing of fossil fuel companies is now "negligible", putting putting it in a "prime position to show real climate leadership" by definitively ending its support for the coal, oil and gas sector.

In August, RBS said it would stop financing coal-fired power plants or coalmines under a sustainability policy designed to help to tackle climate change.

Projects to drill for oil in the Arctic and mining oil sands, two of the most environmentally contentious forms of oil production, also will be barred, RBS said. 

READ MORE: We Stand Together - Thousands gather worldwide to demand climate change action

It also said it would tighten up restrictions on lending to companies and would not provide finance to those that got more than 40 per cent of their revenues from thermal coalmining or coal-fired power plants, down from 65 per cent previously.

But the groups say that RBS’s policy restrictions do not close off the possibility of future support for new conventional oil and gas projects or for all coal companies seeking to expand their activities.

Greig Aitken, Climate campaigner at BankTrack, said: “RBS fossil fuel lending might be close to nothing in practice, but if this is not translated into necessary policy changes, the bank is keeping its doors open to potential new fossil fuel finance.

"As the climate crisis intensifies, and with growing global consensus that fossil fuel expansion has to end urgently, we’re hopeful that new CEO Alison Rose will see the business and sustainability case for ending the bank’s fossil fuel financing, and thereby position RBS as the climate leader in the banking sector."


Thousands of Scots joined a global climate change crusade

On Wednesday, the Scottish Government's targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions were strengthened as MSPs voted to put  down a 'net-zero' target in law.

The Climate Change Bill - which aims to have all emissions offset by 2045 - was passed by 113 votes to 0 at Holyrood.

READ MORE: Billy Connolly joins Climate Strike in Glasgow

Ministers agreed to a Labour amendment to up the interim target, with members agreeing to target a 75% reduction by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.

The bill sets a legally-binding "net-zero" target of 2045, meaning any remaining emissions would have to be entirely offset with measures such as increased tree planting and carbon capture and storage technology.

The target for Scotland is five years ahead of the date set for the whole of the UK.

The groups believe that RBS, which this week became a founding signatory of the UN’s Principles for Responsible Banking, can now go further than its peers and lead by example.

The letter to Ms Rose congratulates her on being the first woman to lead one of the UK's big four banks and states: "With a new CEO at the helm, RBS has an opportunity to achieve another first within the UK banking sector and, indeed, the sector globally: to become the first major bank to formally end its financing for fossil fuels.

"With the climate crisis both accelerating and becoming more prominent than ever in the public consciousness, there is no time to waste and a lot to be gained by becoming a fossil free business.

"Civil society around the world recently welcomed RBS’s decision to rule out financing for oil and gas drilling or exploration in the endangered Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This step is a major boon for wildlife, the climate and the human rights of the Gwich’in Nation.

"We now urge RBS, under your leadership, to go further and reconcile the bank’s finance policy coverage for fossils fuels with the positive investment reality RBS has arrived at, whereby your bank’s support for the sector is now miniscule.

"This would require the introduction of policy restrictions which would see RBS formally closing its doors to the coal, oil and gas sectors."

The letter concluded: "The banking sector is crying out for a leader to show the way out of fossil fuel financing. RBS can be that leader."

An RBS spokesman said: “RBS engages with these civil society groups regularly to discuss our approach to climate change and other sustainability issues.

"RBS already has policies in place that mean it will not provide project-specific finance to new coal fired power stations, new thermal coal mines, oil sands projects or Arctic oil projects. "We will also not provide finance to mining companies generating more than 40% of their revenues from thermal coal, or power companies generating more than 40% of their electricity from coal. RBS is also one of the leading lenders to the renewable energy sector in the UK."