Over the last year, it has been difficult to focus on anything other than the immediate social and economic upheaval happening in this country, in Ukraine and around the world. However, it is precisely this sort of turbulence that makes it more important than ever to find a balance – and make sure we are dedicating hearts and minds to creating a sustainable plan for ourselves and future generations.

Here at the Royal Bank of Scotland, we have set our sights on the road out of COP26 – last year’s international climate conference in Glasgow of which we were principle banking sponsor. The key issue for us to tackle – how do we best follow up on commitments made at the conference and ensure we are taking the necessary steps to build a sustainable and prosperous future?

Of course, to be a credible voice on this subject, and an authentic partner to those seeking to take action, it’s critical that we look inwards and get our own house in order. Tackling climate change is a key component of our purpose-led approach to banking. We see helping people, families and businesses with the transition to a low-carbon economy as a core mission for the bank, so we’ve set ambitious targets and are doing all we can to reduce our own carbon footprint. The transition to net zero is an opportunity for us and our customers, because tackling climate change is not only good for the planet and the communities we serve, but good for our business too.

We’ve committed to halving net zero emissions by 2050. In 2021, we reduced our direct emissions by 46 per cent against a 2019 baseline. We want to support other organisations in their climate journeys, too. Our research has found that half of the UK’s carbon reduction ambitions could be delivered by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), unlocking a £160 billion worth of opportunities for these businesses at the same time.

We know that the initial transition to greener production methods and supply chains can feel daunting, especially amid a growing cost of living crisis. Our Springboard to Sustainability report found that with the right support, 55-70 per cent of business cases to reduce emissions will make financial sense for SMEs by 2030. If we can use our resources as a large organisation to help SMEs become climate-focused, it will make sense from a cost base perspective, it’s a pragmatic use of resources and it is the socially responsible decision.

This autumn we are excited to be launching a new partnership working with the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute and Edinburgh University, which has been funded as part of the run up to the bank’s 300th anniversary in 2027. The Climate Springboard is currently in pilot mode and is providing direct, practical and hands-on support to SMEs to get them ready for the transition to net zero, and ensure
they are in the best position to prosper from the shift in how we all do business. Our mission is to enable businesses to understand and take action to reduce their climate impact, to fully contribute to tackling climate change, and to identify and realise the business opportunities from being at the forefront of
the net zero economy.

The programme includes workshops, toolkits, online learning, mentoring and peer-to-peer work to build knowledge, together with the right training and advice. Our aim is to help SMEs to take action and become leaders in their own fields. Small businesses are already the powerhouses of Scotland’s economic and social fabric – imagine if they were given the correct resources to make their vital
contribution to Scotland’s national target for net zero emissions by 2045. In doing so, they would ensure their own prosperity in the future net zero economy.

Another way in which we’re supporting businesses is through the upcoming launch of our Carbon Planner. Recognising that it can be a challenge to reduce emissions in supply chains, this free tool has been designed to help businesses identify potential cost and carbon savings. By answering a few questions, businesses can measure their carbon footprint and in return, get tailored actions and start building a plan to become more sustainable and climate-conscious. Businesses can register their interest
ahead of the Carbon Planner launch on the Royal Bank’s website.

The old adage that it takes an orchestra to play a symphony is a prescient observation when it comes to achieving our shared ambitions on tackling climate change and achieving Net Zero. The task ahead of us – at home and globally – ought to be our defining mission. Meeting the 2045 target requires nothing less than wholehearted collaboration, with people, communities, businesses and public institutions standing
shoulder to shoulder to take the bold and decisive action needed to achieve Net Zero. We must all act with urgency if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.