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Barclays shareholders refuse to phase out fossil fuels

The UK financial giant is Europe's biggest funder of fossil fuels projects, but shareholders rejected proposals to phase them out
Demonstrators protesting Barclays' fossil fuels investment in 2017. Image: link Ric Lander

Shareholders for bank Barclays have voted against a resolution which would stop the financial giant investing in fossil fuels.

Barclays gives the most funding to coal and oil projects of any European bank, but just 14 per cent of shareholders backed the call for it to align its fossil fuel investment with Paris Agreement targets.

If passed, the resolution would have required Barclays to set robust short, medium and long term targets for phasing out its funding for fossil fuels.

The vote held at Wednedsday’s Barclays AGM “smacks of either indifference or incompetence,” according to Adam McGibbon, UK campaign lead for environmental group Market Forces which coordinated the resolution with the help of more than 100 of the bank’s shareholders, including a Church of England vicar, a former MP and a former vice-president for Bank of America.

Barclays’ investors have “some serious questions to answer about their commitment to climate change action,” he added. 

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“Today’s result is a major concern. Barclays financed another US$27 billion (£19.4bn) to fossil fuels in 2020, increased funding for fracking, tar sands and arctic oil by 32 per cent in the same time period, and remains the biggest UK funder of the global coal industry.”

Another 12 per cent of shareholders abstained, going against direction from Barclays management to vote down the resolution.

Eight in ten UK customers at Barclays and HSBC did not know their banks funded fossil fuels, a survey published in January showed

“There is a healthy group of investors who see past Barclays’ greenwash [attempts to make the bank seem more climate-focused than it is], who will need to work hard over the next year to convince their colleagues to demand stronger climate action from the bank,” McGibbon added.

The UK’s five biggest banks – Barclays, HSBC, Natwest, Lloyds Banking Group and Standard Chartered – invested nearly £40.4bn into the coal industry alone between 2018 and 2020, according to campaigners Urgewald and Reclaim Finance.

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Campaigners warned the financial sector’s backing for fossil fuels put the global fight to reach net-zero carbon emissions at risk, as well as exposing the bank and shareholders to “unnecessary and unacceptable” reputational and legal risks.

Barclays’ current policies will allow funding of the coal industry “well into the 2030s, with no end date in sight,” according to Market Forces.

“Barclays’s distant climate ‘ambition’ remains hollow so long as it continues to finance fossil fuel expansion today,” said Dominic Burke, investment director at the Lankelly Chase Foundation.

The bank laid out its climate plans ahead of the AGM, including a new way of measuring the carbon emissions it finances.