The 2021 AGM of the biggest fossil banker in Europe, Barclays, was rightly dominated by questions and discussions around climate change.

One quarter of Barclays shareholders defied the bank board’s voting recommendation on climate change, with 14% voting for the Market Forces shareholder resolution committing the bank to phase out fossil fuel funding, and a further 12% abstaining.

The shareholder resolution coordinated by Market Forces brought together over 100 shareholders from all walks of life – a Church of England vicar, two former members of the UK Parliament, a former Vice President of Bank of America, and many others, all united in their desire to see Barclays end its financing for fossil fuels.

Click here to tweet our statement from the AGM calling on shareholders to vote in favour of the resolution.

The Barclays board recommended shareholders voted against our resolution.

But our campaigner, Adam, made an intervention urging shareholders to look at Barclays’ actions, rather than their words:

Barclays’ actions reveal their true thoughts on climate change

Barclays’ actions leave little room for doubt about what they think about climate change. Since the start of 2020, Barclays has:

  • Financed coal, oil and gas globally in 2020 to the tune of US$27 billion, according to the Banking on Climate Chaos report, with the bank retaining its place as the heaviest financier of fossil fuels in Europe since the Paris Agreement was signed;
  • Financed companies pursuing new and expanded coal mining and power, and oil and gas extraction assets;
  • Increased funding for ‘extreme’ oil and gas projects (fracking, tar sands and Arctic oil and gas) by 32% in 2020 compared to 2019;
  • Participated in financing syndicates worth nearly US$100 billion to oil and gas companies, several of which have business strategies aligned with the failure of the Paris Agreement.

Shareholders challenge the bank on funding fossil fuels

The question and answer session was almost entirely dominated by climate change, showing the escalating concern about Barclays remaining the biggest fossil fuel funder in Europe. Shareholders peppered the board with questions about the bank’s climate policy, and specific questions on particular projects. This blunt question from a shareholder comparing Barclays tiny GB £5 million charity partnership to protect the world’s oceans, with its major shareholding in the Bahamas Petroleum Company:

The result

In the face of a huge lobbying effort by Barclays’ board, the Market Forces climate resolution received 14% of the vote, with a further 12% of shareholders defying management’s recommendation to vote against our resolution, by abstaining. Altogether, around a quarter of Barclays investors defied the Board’s wishes on climate change.

The result is a major concern, as after last year’s strong investor vote for greater climate action, Barclays financed another US$27 billion to fossil fuels in 2020, increased funding for fracking, tar sands and arctic oil by 32% in the same time period, and remains the biggest UK funder of the global coal industry. If Barclays has genuinely climate-concerned investors, shareholder votes for greater climate action should only be increasing.

Barclays’ institutional investors have some serious questions to answer about their commitment to climate change action. Having seen Barclays’ climate policies fail to reign in its investments in fossil fuels in the last year, to have investor support for climate change action drop this year compared to 2020 smacks of either indifference or incompetence from many major investors.

There is a healthy group of investors who see past Barclays’ greenwash, who will need to work hard over the next year to convince their colleagues to demand stronger climate action from the bank.