Barclays’ annual general meeting is on the horizon, giving shareholders and investors the chance to push the bank towards defunding fossil fuels. The question is: will they seize this opportunity, even though Barclays has told them to vote against?
A group of shareholders, in conjunction with Market Forces, have put forward a resolution for the AGM on 5 May that seeks to stop Barclays funding coal, oil and gas. It’s the second time in two years that Barclays has faced a resolution like this and the only one this year that chair Nigel Higgins has advised shareholders to vote against.
Why? Because he doesn’t believe it’s in the best interests of the company, which ignores the fact that the risks associated with climate breakdown are most definitely not in the company’s best interests. Higgins also claims Barclays already has a clear policy, although surely he’s not thinking of the net-zero plan released to huge indifference last year?
Campaign group Sharkleys has provided a detailed rebuttal of Higgins’s claims. However, the core point to make is that, despite saying it wants to align operations with the Paris Agreement, Barclays is not doing nearly enough to meet that ambition. For instance, Barclays has yet to commit to ending its funding of coal, oil and gas – an absolute must to meet the Paris targets.
It’s interesting to note how different Barclays’ response has been compared with HSBC, which faced a similar shareholder resolution. Instead of pushing shareholders to vote against, HSBC came forward with its own resolution which, while far from perfect, is at least a marked change in its attitude towards fossil fuels.
Attention has also turned to major Barclays shareholders to persuade them to vote in favour of the climate resolution. BlackRock – the biggest asset manager in the world and one of Barclays’ biggest shareholders – was targeted by activists in London and other cities around the world. Along with other top investors, BlackRock has also been receiving emails from people urging it to vote to end fossil fuel funding. With a stake in many global banks, BlackRock has huge influence and has threatened to dump shares in polluting companies. So voting in favour of the Barclays resolution (as well as those being put forward at other AGMs) should be a simple decision.
Barclays itself was paid a visit by Extinction Rebellion’s ‘dirty scrubbers’, setting up a greenwashing laundry outside head office in London.
Meanwhile, young campaigners such as Elijah Mackenzie-Jackson and Emma Greenwood have been using their influence on social media to tell their followers all about the problems with Barclays. And in an amazingly creative twist, 100 specially-designed china mugs have been sent to board members and key shareholders, bearing messages about the need to urgently defund fossil fuels.
The climate resolution put forward last year didn’t pass but, with pressure on banks and shareholders rapidly increasing, change is definitely in the air.