‘Worst bank in Europe’: Climate activists target Barclays AGM as customers ‘weigh up switching banks’

·4-min read
Climate activists protest outside Barclays AGM in the rain in Manchester on Wednesday  (Fossil free London/Bobby Edge-Partington)
Climate activists protest outside Barclays AGM in the rain in Manchester on Wednesday (Fossil free London/Bobby Edge-Partington)

A quarter of Barclays customers say they would consider switching banks if it doesn’t take more ambitious climate action, according to a new poll, as a report brands the bank the “worst in Europe” for financing fossil fuels.

The poll commissioned by campaign group 38 degrees and shared exclusively with The Independent found that 26 per cent of the bank’s customers said they’d likely consider moving their money if it didn’t present a more ambitious plan than its proposed climate strategy being voted on at its annual general meeting in Manchester on Wednesday.

That plan includes a 2020 ambition to be net zero by 2050 and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions - known as Scope 1 and 2 emissions - by 90 per cent against 2018 levels by the end of 2025. It also plans to source 100 per cent renewable electricity for its global operations by the same time.

The reduction to 90 per cent does not include so-called ‘scope 3 emissions’ which come from all other indirect emissions that occurr in a company’s value chain, such as employee commuting.

A file image of a sign above the entrance to a branch of Barclays Bank in Knightsbridge London (Getty Images)
A file image of a sign above the entrance to a branch of Barclays Bank in Knightsbridge London (Getty Images)

The strategy also says the bank aims to reduce financed emissions across the energy, power, cement and steel sectors by the end of 2030, including reducing total - scope 1, 2 and 3 - energy emissions by 40 per cent. By 2023, the plan says the bank aims not to finance new clients engaged in thermal coal mining and not to finance existing clients that generate more than 30 per cent of revenues from thermal coal mining.

But some customers are not convinced it goes far enough.

“It’s all well and good for Barclays bosses to sit there and look at their balance sheets at the end of the year and see how much money they make,” said one customer and supporter of 38 Degrees, according to the group.

“But, unless they start balancing their books against the environmental destruction their investments are causing, I’ll close my account.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday a group of protesters gathered outside the AGM meeting venue to demand the bank stops financing fossil fuels. Extinction Rebellion later said it had disrputed Barclays AGM.

Protesters also disrupted the AGM of Standard Chartered bank that was taking place in London on Wednesday. A spokesman for Standard Chartered declined to comment on the protest.

The disruptions follow a similar stunt at HSBC’s AGM on Friday, in which an ABBA flash mob broke into song during the chairman’s speech.

A statement from Fossil Free London, a group campaigning for a London beyond fossil fuels, cited the latest fossil fuel finance report. which found that Barclays is “the worst” bank in Europe for financing fossil fuels in the six years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. The Paris accord aims to keep the increase in average global temperatures “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, ideally no more than 1.5C, compared to pre-industrial levels.

According to the fossil fuel finance report, produced by Rainforest Action Network and other groups, Barclays financed fossil fuels with $167 billion (£133 billion) between 2016 and 2021 and is the 7th “worst” bank globally for financing fossil fuels.

Ros Rice, a protester from Liverpool, who planned to join the demonstrations said: “Us taxpayers bailed out the banks in 2008 and now they are saying thank you by driving us to destruction with extensive investment in fossil fuels.”

“They couldn’t be more callous.” Rice said in the statement put out by Fossil Free London.

Last month, the latest chapter of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that global greenhouse gas emissions will have to peak before 2025 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

“It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world,” UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said introducing the publication of the new report. “We are on a fast track to climate disaster.”

The Independent has contacted Barclays for comment.

The poll was conducted by JL Partners, a polling company, that surveyed a representative sample of 1033 people within Great Britain on 28 April, the data was weighted by age, gender, region and past vote, 38 degrees said. The survey asked people to select the institutions they banked with, with 17 per cent of the respondents choosing Barclays.

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